No more instant noodles for school children

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Sunday, July 3, 2011


THE Department of Education (DepEd) has ended the use of "fortified instant noodles" in the agency's school feeding program.

Education Secretary Armin Luistro said the "fortified instant noodles" will be replaced with meals that contain indigenous ingredients that promote nutritional balance.

He said the meals' indigenous contents would include vegetables produced by schools under their gardening program, adding it is more nutritious than noodles.

"This will [be] served to pre-schoolers up to Grade 3, which [is] the school levels with high drop-out rates," Luistro said, adding one of the factors in the high drop-out is nutritional deficiency of the children.

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The education secretary earlier issued a memorandum enjoining public elementary schools to revive the agency's school gardening program under the "Gulayan sa Paaralan" project, which also included teacher training on the nutritional benefits of vegetables through an instructional module included in their home economics lesson.

The department said it is eyeing the expansion of the project this school year and make it an institutional advocacy and not just a passing fancy.

"DepEd's goal is to establish a sustainable vegetable garden in all of the elementary and secondary schools nationwide," Luistro said, adding the department would tap the help of all stakeholders, including the private sector to make the program a year-long activity.

Based on DepEd's estimates, it costs an initial P50,000 to start a school garden. The amount would cover the purchase of seeds, fertilizers, garden tools and farm implements, nursery and fencing.

At present, there are some 6,000 public elementary and secondary schools involving 1.8 million students involved in the gulayan project. The number represents only 15 percent of all public schools in the country.

But Luistro touted the benefits that can be derived from the vegetable garden, saying studies have shown that among South East Asians, Filipinos rank lowest in vegetable consumption at 40 kilograms per head each year.

Likewise, figures from the Food and Nutrition Research Council showed that 26 in every 100 Filipino children (6-10 years old - 25.6 percent) or about 1.8 million school children are underweight for their age.

Thirty-three in every 100 children (6-10 years old - 33.1 percent) or about 1.2 million school children are stunted or short for their age, and 20 in every 100 schoolchildren (6-12 years old - 19.8 percent) are anemic.

Luistro also urged the University of the Philippines-Los Banos and the South East Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (Searca) to help the department in creating programs that will address problems in malnutrition and under-nutrition through the establishment of school gardens.

He said the two could help the department through the School-Based Food and Nutrition Program (SFNP).

The SFNP is an effort to promote the well-being of school children by providing children with adequate nutrition through school-based gardens. It aims to improve the nutritional condition and dietary habits of school-aged children through increased production of locally adapted edible plants through a school-based gardening/agriculture program.

The DepEd came under fire in 2008 due to the controversial and overpriced purchase of noodles with "fresh" eggs. The project was also hit with false nutritional claims, forcing then Education Secretary Jesli Lapus to cancel the multi-million peso project.

The feeding program using fortified instant noodles supposedly with fresh egg was implemented by DepEd to address the nutritional needs of school children and as part of the hunger mitigation initiatives of the government initially in 13 food-poor provinces.

Fortified instant noodles were provided daily to pre-school and Grade 1 pupils for 104 feeding days that started in school year 2007-2008. The feeding program was expanded to cover Grade III students and eventually extended to Grade VI students.

The contract for the 2007 procurement of the 16,495,718 pieces of 100-gram pack of noodles of "Fortified Instant Noodles with Fresh Eggs" amounting to P283,626,515.66 under the "Food For School Program" was awarded to Jeverps Manufacturing Corporation (Jeverps).

In 2008, DepEd, through a repeat order, awarded again the contract for the procurement of 3,837,600 pieces of the same pack of noodles amounting to P66,620,736 to Jeverps under its "Low Performing Schools Breakfast Feeding Program".

But an analysis conducted by the Societe Generale de Surveillance (SGS) did not show the presence of eggs or any egg content in whatever form in the noodles but despite the finding, the words "Fortified Instant Noodles with Fresh Eggs" was printed on the noodle packing.

The Office of the Ombudsman has already filed graft charges against Lapus, Bids and Awards Committee (BAC) Chairman and then Undersecretary Teodosio Sangil Jr., Vice Chairperson Demetria Manuel, BAC members Nanette Mamoransing, Macur Marohombsar, Artemio Capellan Jr. and Ramon Bacani.

Lapus and Sangil already left the department, while Bacani is now the director of the South East Asian Ministers of Education Organization-Innotech, whose main office is located in Quezon City.

Five individuals of Jeverps were also named respondents to the case. (AH/Sunnex)

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