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Food & Hunger

Brazil’s Hunger Solution for Its Poorest Children? ‘Human Pet Food’

A demonstrator holding a sign that reads in Portuguese "Pellets are not meal" protests Sao Paulo Mayor Joao Doria's plans to serve school meals made of reprocessed food pellets in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017.
Andre Penner/AP

Human pet food” and “dog food.” These are the terms critics have used to describe what the mayor of São Paolo, Brazil, hopes to add to school lunches.

Joao Doria, the mayor of Latin America’s largest city, says “farinata” — a concoction of leftover food that has been dehydrated, ground into powder, and shaped into bite-sized pellets — could help feed hungry children at public schools.

The name comes from the word “farinha,” Portuguese for flour, but the pellets are made from things like pasta and cassava and can be eaten by themselves or mixed into cakes. The ingredients are supplied by food manufacturers, which ship out items close to expiring or “out of market standard” for reprocessing.

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In São Paulo, home to more than 11 million people, 40% of the population lives on the outskirts of the city in areas marked by high concentrations of poverty and almost 900,000 households are located in slums. Overall, about 5.6% of the population lives below the international poverty line of $1.90 a day, the World Bank reports.

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Read More: World Hunger is Rising Again and Conflicts and Famines Grow: Report

With Brazil currently in an economic recession, hunger and food insecurity among poor families and children is a major concern. According to Oxfam, about 66 million Brazilians — 20% of the population — experience food insecurity each year.  Brazil has made significant strides in addressing hunger over the past two decades, but 1.6% of children still experience undernourishment and 6.1% experience stunting, according to the Global Hunger Index.

Some public schools will serve the pellets as a nutritional supplement, São Paulo Mayor Joao Doria says, as a means of addressing the problem.

Watch Doria present the pellets in this video:

But opponents of the farinata food project say the little nuggets aren’t just degrading to poor Paulistanos, they’re nutritionally questionable.

“There is an uncertainly over the nutritional value of this food,” São Paulo state prosecutor José Bonilha told the Guardian. “What were the tests and the documents that authorised the announcement of its introduction?”

Read More: Here’s How Much Food Really Costs for People Around the World

“It is not food, it is an ultra-processed product,” Marly Cardosoa, a public health and nutrition professor at the Federal University of São Paulo, added. “You don’t know what is in it.”

815 million people around the world are hungry and that number has steadily risen since 2014, the United Nations says. Over the last two years, conflict and famine have driven the number of people suffering from hunger up, which could derail the UN’s goal of ending global hunger by 2030.