By Frank Kamuntu
The World Food Programme (WFP) will begin destroying global stocks of a blended food product which was identified as a source of sickness among people who consumed it in Uganda early this year.
Distribution of the stocks of Super Cereal, produced by one of WFP’s suppliers, was suspended following an outbreak of illness, pending investigations that identified the product as the most probable cause of illness among people in the Karamoja sub-region of Uganda.
Five people died and around 300 fell sick after eating Super Cereal distributed in Karamoja in March and April. Complex investigations involving international food safety experts later indicated that the probable cause of the sickness was contamination of Super Cereal by Tropane alkaloids during harvesting or production.
“The women and children whose lives are saved and changed through food assistance remain our priority and this was an extremely unfortunate and unprecedented event in the history of WFP food assistance,” said Amir Abdulla, Deputy Executive Director of WFP.
He added that “WFP is deeply saddened by the loss of life and suffering among vulnerable communities who count on food assistance in one of the poorest areas of Uganda.”
“There is growing demand for specialized nutritional food products globally, particularly as conflict drives food crises. Despite operating in challenging environments, we must intensify efforts to improve our supply chain management and food quality. We are already communicating with suppliers about phasing in new standards and upgraded specification expectations to meet new demands,” said Abdulla.
In addition to suspending distribution and organizing the destruction of the product, WFP has increased oversight of every link in the production cycle of Super Cereal, including spot checks and sampling of cargo along the supply chain to test for any potential contamination.
The Ministry of Health in Uganda, the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, working with WFP and other experts, have been investigating and testing samples since the first outbreak of sickness to determine the precise cause.
Super Cereal is maize or wheat blended with soya beans, fortified with vitamins and minerals, and processed into a flour. It is a critical part of WFP’s efforts to prevent malnutrition and save lives.