World Food Programme to destroy compromised stocks of killer Super Cereal

By Gill Hyslop contact

- Last updated on GMT

There is growing demand for specialized nutritional food products globally, particularly as conflict drives food crises, says the WFP. Pic: GettyImages/Punnarong
There is growing demand for specialized nutritional food products globally, particularly as conflict drives food crises, says the WFP. Pic: GettyImages/Punnarong

Related tags: United nations, World food programme, Super Cereal, Climate change, contamination, World health organization, Centers for disease control and prevention, tropane alkaloids

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has announced it will destroy global stocks of its fortified cereal – a critical part of its efforts to prevent malnutrition among women and children – identified as the culprit of an outbreak of illness in East Africa earlier this year.

Five people died and around 300 fell sick after eating Super Cereal distributed in the Karamoja regions of Uganda in March and April.

Super Cereal is a wheat or corn soya blend, processed into a flour and fortified with vitamins and minerals. It is typically consumed as a cooked porridge.

Following the outbreak, the WFP put an immediate suspension on the distribution of the maize or wheat-based flour produced by one of its suppliers. This involved putting on a hold Super Cereal stocks in WFP operations in 25 countries.

The issue is unprecedented in its implications for WFP’s global supply chain as the food supplies on hold around the world amounted to over 21,000 metric tons, with an estimated replacement value of $22m.

Complex investigations involving international food safety experts – including the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – found Super Cereal was contaminated by tropane alkaloids, which are toxic to humans and animals. Contamination can occur when wild plants from the Solanaceae​ family – which include mandrake, henbane and deadly nightshade – enter the food chain during harvesting or production.

When it comes to the impact of climate change – regardless of any particular views about what is causing it – the world’s poor and vulnerable feel it first. - David Beasley, WFP’s executive director

Most vulnerable communities

“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.

“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.”

He added the WFP is working with its suppliers to phase in new standards and upgrade specification expectations, including spot checks and sampling of cargo along the supply chain.

“There is growing demand for specialized nutritional food products globally, particularly as conflict drives food crises. Operating in challenging environments, we must intensify efforts to improve our supply chain management and food quality.”

Climate change escalates acute food insecurity

According to David Beasley, WFP’s executive director, it is estimated that, of the more than 100 million people experiencing acute hunger around the world, 54 million are affected by climate change.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in Africa, for example, “temperatures have risen by 0.6°C since the 1950s, rivers rich with fish are running dry and unreliable rainfall means growing crops is a yearly gamble … a trend I have observed in countries around the world,” ​he said.

“When it comes to the impact of climate change – regardless of any particular views about what is causing it – the world’s poor and vulnerable feel it first.”

Last year, weather-related disasters like Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas and Cyclone Idai in Mozambique pushed 29 million more people around the world into acute food insecurity … “often chronically hungry people with little access to a dependable food supply other than through humanitarian assistance.”

He added climate catastrophes and conflict are intrinsically linked.

Climate shocks destabilize communities, leading to fresh outbreaks of conflict as competition for reduced natural resources swells.

“The impact of climate change and the destructive influence of conflict on hunger means that we are already lagging behind our targets to reach the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of zero hunger by 2030.”

The WFP works in more than 80 countries to feed people caught in conflict and disasters.

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