Having rejected measures to make real food affordable to Sao Paulo’s poor, Mayor Joao Doria is now rushing forward with a plan that would incentivize companies to donate unsaleable food products for conversion into “farinata,” food pellets of questionable safety and nutritional value.
A new, controversial plan to feed low-income children and adults in São Paulo with powder pellets made from nearly expired food has drawn the ire of critics, who have called the product “human pet food.” The plan was first announced last Wednesday by , the “Donald Trump of Brazil” and mayor of Brazil’s largest city, who compared the pellets – called “farinata” — to “astronaut food” and asserted that their incorporation into the diets of low-income citizens and schoolchildren would alleviate hunger within the city at no cost to the municipal government. As many as 1.5 million people in São Paulo do not have enough food to eat on a regular basis.
Doria’s assertions about the pellets’ benefits have failed to assuage the concerns of state prosecutors who are now probing the plan, which is set to be implemented later this month. Chief among their concerns regarding the pellets is the lack of available information regarding the food’s nutritional value. As José Bonilha, a state prosecutor working in connection with the case, told the Guardian, “There is an uncertainty over the nutritional value of this food. What were the tests and the documents that authorized the announcement of its introduction?”
Yet the Brazilian Ministry of Education had no problem approving the plan — which it did last week, despite the lack of information as well as the fact that the pellets have not undergone the legal, safety, and nutritional tests required for inclusion in school meals.
The pellets have been resoundingly criticized by nutritionists who argue that the lack of information regarding the product’s composition is a red flag that must be addressed. “It is not food, it is an ultra-processed product. You don’t know what’s in it,” argued Marly Cardoso, professor of public health and nutrition at the Federal University of São Paulo. There is also concern among nutritionists that the pellets could worsen Brazil’s growing obesity crisis, which has largely resulted from the aggressive marketing of highly processed fast-food to the country’s urban poor.
Critics also pointed to the fact that Doria, a political ally of Brazil’s deeply unpopular president, Michel Temer, had rejected a plan earlier this year that would have sought to improve the city’s diet by giving small-scale farmers increased space to sell fruit and vegetables on city streets and by creating price controls on fruits and vegetables to keep them affordable.
Doria’s rejection of this measure, critics argue, suggests that he is less interested in improving the city’s diet and eradicating hunger than in offering incentives to companies who donate food products they are unable to sell to become pellets. Doria recently offered tax breaks to companies who donate food towards his hunger eradication policy.
Doria and the pellets’ manufacturer, Plataforma Sinergia, assert that “farinata” is totally safe and offers excellent nutrition. According to Plataforma Sinergia’s website, the organization is associated with the Catholic Church and is a partner of the UN’s “Save Food” program. However, when pressed for comment by the Guardian regarding the product’s nutritional composition, Plataforma Sinergia did not respond. City officials also did not respond to requests for information regarding whether the pellets had been properly tested.
Feature photo | A mural by Brazilian street artist Paulo Ito, of a crying child who is served a soccer ball to appease his hunger, in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Prosecutors in Brazil’s largest city opened an inquiry on Oct. 19, 2017, into the mayor’s plans to offer school meals with pellets made of reprocessed food items. Andre Penner | AP