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Poisoned goats get food minister’s goat

New Delhi, Oct. 20: Ever thought four dead goats could kick up such a fuss'

Probably not. But then, goats normally don’t die of food poisoning. More so when the grain was meant for human consumption.

A fortnight ago, the goats had strayed into a godown of the Civil Supplies Corporation, a state government enterprise, at Karuvelipadi in Kochi, Kerala.

The animals ate rice meant for distribution among ration-card holders.

Soon after, one goat was found dead. Local authorities thought it was a case of snakebite. However, when three more died, the authorities sealed the godown and began investigations.

The ministry of consumer affairs, food and public distribution has taken serious note of how rice unfit even for animals was sent.

It has asked the Food Corporation of India, which supplied the rice, to find out the source of the poisoning. The FCI said it was waiting for the inquiry report of the state government.

Food minister Sharad Yadav said it was the “responsibility” of the state government. “If it is true (that the rice was unfit for human or cattle consumption), the Kerala government faulted somewhere. State officials sign and certify the fitness of foodgrain before they are accepted,” he said.

The bodies of the goats have been sent for post-mortem.

Local officials suspect that the animals might have eaten rice sprayed with pesticide. But workers at the godown insist that the foodgrain was not sprayed. However, they are not sure if they were treated with chemicals at any of the FCI godowns before despatch.

The minister said the total stock of rice and wheat with the FCI and state agencies as on September 1 was 554.31 lakh tonnes, of which only 38,000 tonnes, were found unfit for human consumption.

Yadav said the grain unfit for human consumption is given as cattle feed with Rajasthan buying a bulk of it.

Food secretary and FCI executive director (sales and personnel) Shailendra Nigam said he was not aware of the incident and would seek a report from state officials.

Yadav said the government has formed a task force on food and public distribution to ensure that foodgrain reach the targeted sections. He admitted that a case of mortgage of ration card of a below-poverty-line family has come to light.

“It is an isolated case, but remedial steps are being taken to ensure that such incidents are not repeated in future,” the minister said.

New programmes through welfare councils are also being thought of so that dubious manufacturers do not dupe consumers.

“The task force headed by the food secretary will monitor and supervise all the issues related to management of foodgrain and liaise with state governments to ensure smooth functioning of all programmes related to the ministry,” Yadav said.

He said the task force will look into anomalies in the public distribution system and suggest corrective measures. The body will also look at ways to stop diversion of foodgrain meant for export to the domestic market.

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