Cutting across party lines, it was an unusual gathering of 15 Members of Parliament. Amar Singh, Jaya Bhaduri [Samajwadi Party], Ravishanker Prasad, Manvendra Singh [Bhartiya Janata Party], and many Congress MPs took part in a discussion on initiatives to tackle malnutrition at a conference organised by GAIN ( Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition ) in New Delhi on Wednesday.
Fifty per cent of Indian children suffer from Vitamin A deficiency which makes children more susceptible to disease and pushes up child mortality rates. The MPs were there to understand how best this serious problem could be tackled.
An issue which figured prominently in the discussion was the concept of milk fortification. It was felt that could be easily done in a cost-effective manner.
Vitamin A and D had been removed from toned and half-toned milk supplied in the market. This is because these are fat soluble vitamins and get automatically eliminated when the fat is removed during the processing.
Initiating the debate, Dr Swaminathan, regretted that the problem of malnutrition was not attracting the urgency and commitment it deserves. He noted that a third of Indian babies are low birth weight (2.5kg).
A holistic approach had to be taken to deal with the problem. Balanced diet was of course the ideal solution.
B J Panda said the issue of malnutrition should be non-partisan and an all-party approach was required. He said malnutrition dealt not with just poverty, but also dietary habits.
Anand Sharma felt there was a definite linkage between food security, energy security and climate change. Statistics about malnutrition worldwide was alarming, he said.
Manvendra Singh said the impetus for food fortification could only be implemented by involving state governments as early as possible.
CPI-M's Mohammad Salim said while other health indices in India indicated upward trend, unfortunately this was not the case in malnutrition. He said income patterns are improving, but malnutrition is not improving at the same rate.
While addressing the media, Congress MP Sachin Pilot said he had submitted a private members bill in the Lok Sabha secretariat, suggesting that the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act should be amended to include fortification with 2000 IU of Vitamin A. Another Congress MP Miss Mabel Rebello has submitted a private members bill along the similar lines in the Rajya Sabha.
Dr Rajan Sankar, GAIN'S South Asia director, said the meeting of MPs was the first of several such discussions, which will be held in future to throw up suggestions to tackle the problem with a special focus on fortification.
At the panel discussion, B J Panda of the Biju Janta Dal said he would be happy to associate with a milk bill proposed by Pilot and Rebello. He said the support of civil society was necessary for getting such a measure through.
Dr M S Swaminathan said adding Vitamin A to milk was a good idea.
Paul Thachil, CEO of Mother Dairy, said it was not debatable that milk from which the fat had been removed should be mandatorily fortified. The meeting was moderated by Dr. CS Pandav, professor and Head Centre for Community Medicine, AIIMS.