The government has cancelled a contract with a school food supplier this week, after some 50 children and 10 teachers became ill from their breakfast rations served at at a school in the hamlet of Pacaran, 250 km south of Lima in Cañete province. All but three children have now been released from hospital.
The incident collapsed the local hospital services. The mayor of Pacaran, Luisa Rivadeneyra, said the children and teachers came down with stomach cramps and began to vomit after they drank spoiled milk, daily Peru.21 reported.
According to local reports, the milk went bad because of high temperatures and transport distances between the storage area and the school. The Minister of Development and Social Inclusion, Paola Bustamante, said officials were checking on the conditions of the supplier’s storage facilities as well as verifying if any unauthorized staff had handled the food. The supplier is to be sued for negligence.
“We’ve also coordinated with the Health Minister, Midori de Habich, so that she gives all the necessary support to the [health] post and be able to attend all of the children affected,” Bustamante said.
The nationwide government-run Qali Warma program, overseen by the Social Development and Inclusion Ministry, provides breakfast and lunch to some 2.7 million children between the ages of three and 12 through 47,000 pre-school and elementary school networks.
Qali Warma has come under heavy criticism from former President Alan Garcia and the Fujimorista party in the more than 20 incidents of food poisoning that have occurred since the program took over from the previous national food assistance program, Pronaa, which was founded by President Fujimori. Pronaa continued until 2012 and included food coverage for adults, especially through soup kitchens, but became disorganized, with rampant corruption, resulting in food poisoning and tons of food being stored past expiration dates.
The Qali Warma program works with local suppliers, rather than bulk government purchases as Pronaa did, and tries to emphasize fresh, local produce to increase levels of nutrition and also benefit local producers, but the weak link — as it was in Pronaa —continues to be poor handling of storage and food preparation at the local level, partilularly in small farming communities, despite increased training assistance today from international food programs.
In October 2011, only months after President Humala’s inauguration, three children died in Cajamarca from insecticides mixed with the food in the Pronaa program. Twelve years earlier, in 1999 during the Fujimori administration, the hamlet of Tauccamarca, 80 km south of Cusco, was devastated when 24 of its elementary school children died — food from the food compensation program Foncodes was accidentally mixed with parathion, a highly toxic insecticide. In 2006 during the Toledo administration, 300 children in Huancayo suffered from food poisoning and 116 had to be hospitalized, from contaminated food in the Pronaa program. Also in Huancayo, in 2013, 100 children became sick after eating cheese, milk and quinoa from the program.
The government defends Qali Warma, saying it is necessary for those that haven’t benefited from Peru’s robust economic growth. It also argues that overwhelmingly the program is run well for the millions of children that participate in it.