School feeding initiative in trouble

KINGSTON — Only six of the 46 trucks assigned to deliver milk and bullas [cakes] to primary schools are refrigerated, despite a requirement that they all have compartments which can cool milk products at temperatures of two to four degrees.

This is among a number of deficiencies detected by Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis in a special audit of Nutrition Products Limited, which provides low-cost snacks for public school students under the school feeding programme. As a result of damage and spoilage, between May 2010 and October 2011, the NPL dumped 83,957 items, including over 22,000 spoilt bullas and 33,000 pints of milk.

She suggested that the NPL’s failure to modernise its distribution system could seriously affect the school feeding programme, and recommended that the Ministry of Education urgently address the problem.

“We have been criticised by the Ministry of Health for this breach, and we have been instructed to discontinue the practice of delivering milk to schools in unrefrigerated trucks,” NPL said.

However, the company pointed that in order to meet the food and safety standards, it would need another $38 million, annually. NPL has received some $3.3 billion in Government subsidies over the past six years.

Nutritional tests

NPL relies on the Bureau of Standards to conduct independent nutritional tests on its products, usually at the beginning of the school term, to ensure that their nutritional value meets required standards. However, the company did not conduct the required tests between the 2009/2010 and 2011/2012 school years.

“Failure to conduct these tests provided no independent assurance that the snacks are meeting the stated daily caloric intake of students,” the auditor general said in her report to Parliament.

The objective of the programme is to provide one snack, consisting of one solid and one liquid, which should comprise one-third of the daily caloric requirement for each student, in accordance with World Health Organisation nutritional standards.

The audit also found that the NPL also failed to fulfil its mission of utilising local resources wherever possible. The company, said the report, promised to introduce at least one local raw material to the product line each year between 2009/2010 and 2011/2012. But, to date, it has only started a pilot project to produce natural juices for distribution to 32,000 students one day per week.

NPL has only been producing 136,000 snacks daily, or 32 per cent below the total 200,000 snacks-per-day capacity of its three plants in the parishes of Kingston, St Mary and Westmoreland. (Observer)

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