Page last updated at 15:53 GMT, Wednesday, 5 August 2009 16:53 UK

UN withdraws Indian energy food

Anbarasan Ethirajan
BBC News

Children in India
Campaigners say that India's growth is not trickling down

The UN says it has withdrawn a high energy food for children in India after the government said it had been distributed without permission.

A senior official from the UN's children agency, Unicef, told the BBC that malnourished children would now be given a locally available product.

He said this would be instead of the imported ready-to-use therapeutic food.

Unicef had been distributing the food, made of peanut paste, to malnourished children in two Indian states.

It said food provided locally in Bihar and Madhya Pradesh was not sufficient for children in a critical condition.

Malnourished children

Unicef says the Ready to Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) is a high energy relief treatment given to thousands of severely malnourished children around the world.

Indian workers with rice
The government says improvements have been made to food distribution

It says children with acute malnutrition require life-saving treatment, which is sanctioned by the World Health Organisation.

India is home to the greatest number of malnourished children in the world and it is estimated that more than half of them are in the two states.

Unicef was asked by the two state governments to distribute the high-energy peanut paste to affected children in two provinces. It imported about $880,000 worth of the food for distribution.

"The government of India was not aware of this, it felt that it was not adequately tested. So they have asked us to take it out of India, which we have now done," Daniel Toole, Unicef's regional director for South Asia told the BBC.

The agency has now re-exported the therapeutic food to Afghanistan and Madagascar, where it has been used for a long time.

Indian officials say that imported peanut paste is expensive and that they are not convinced about its effectiveness. They want the product to be approved by the Indian health ministry first.


"Nothing should come behind our back. Nothing should be done in the name of emergency when we have not declared an emergency," Shreeranjan, the joint secretary of the Ministry of Women and Child Development told the Reuters news agency.

Indian officials have told Unicef to use locally available alternatives like therapeutic milk. But there are differences between the two products.

"What we have seen in parts of Sri Lanka, Pakistan and in Africa is that... peanut paste for children is a little bit slower but it is much more steady and easier. And mothers can take it home even after they start the treatment," Mr Toole said.

In addition, the food does not require refrigeration or added water.

Health campaigners have criticised the Indian government's decision saying it is an over-reaction. They say despite various nationwide measures to end malnutrition, the country is still facing the problem.

The country's booming economic growth, they say, is not trickling down to millions of poor.

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