Autopsy reports on the at least 22 children who died this week after eating a school lunch in eastern India confirmed that insecticide was either in the food or cooking oil, a doctor said Thursday.
Amarkant Jha Amar, Patna Medical College hospital superintendent, said results of the chemical analysis of the ingredients seized from the school were still pending.
The free midday meal was served to the children Tuesday in Gandamal village in Masrakh block, 80 kilometres north of Patna, the Bihar state capital. The children, aged five to 12, got sick soon after eating rice, lentils, soya and potatoes, and soon, at least 22 of them were dead and dozens were hospitalized.
Some sources have put the death toll as high as 25.
The 25 children and the school cook still in the hospital are unlikely to suffer from any serious after-effects from the tainted food, Amar said, though four of the children were still in the intensive-care unit.
"There will be no remnant effects on them. The effects of poisoning will be washed after a certain period of time from the tissues," Amar said.
The Bihar state education minister, P.K. Sahi, said Wednesday that a preliminary investigation suggested that the food served to the children contained an organophosphate used as an insecticide on rice and wheat crops.
Amar said Thursday that the autopsy reports on the children who died confirmed that insecticide was either in the food or cooking oil. He said authorities were waiting for lab results for more details on the chemicals.
Lunches for some 120 million children
Local villagers, however, have said the problem appeared to be with a side dish of soya and potatoes, not rice. Children who did not eat the side dish were fine, even though they had eaten the rice and lentils, several villagers said Wednesday.
India's midday meal scheme is one of the world's biggest school nutrition programs. State governments have the freedom to decide on menus and timings of the meals, depending on local conditions and availability of food rations. It was first introduced in the 1960s in southern India, where it was seen as an incentive for poor parents to send their children to school.
Since then, the program has been replicated across the country, covering some 120 million schoolchildren. It's part of an effort to address concerns about malnutrition, which the government says nearly half of all Indian children suffer from.
Although there have been occasional complaints about the quality of the food served and the lack of hygiene, the incident in Bihar appeared to be unprecedented for the massive food program.