Humanitarian Ration Packs Still Yellow, But New Color Due
By Sgt. 1st Class Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 9, 2001 Humanitarian Daily Ration packs being dropped into Afghanistan are still yellow despite media reports to the contrary, DoD officials said.
More than 1.2 million yellow-plastic-bagged Humanitarian Daily Ration packets have been airdropped over Afghanistan in the past month. A display of a typical packet reveals entrée pouches in protective cardboard wrappers; foil-plastic pouches of crackers, a fruit bar, peanut butter and raisins; a spoon; and an accessory pack of salt, pepper, a napkin, matches and a towelette. The brown bag in the center contains flatbread; this ration item is packed with a small white packet of nonedible preservative (shown on top of the bag) to ensure freshness. Photo by Rudi Williams.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Widespread news reports have said the ration packs are being changed to blue to avoid their being confused with unexploded yellow-colored from cluster bomb canisters. Not so, said Air Force Maj. Mike Halbig, a Defense Department spokesman.
The department is planning to change the color of the ration packs, he said, but it hasn't decided on the new color. "We're still evaluating and researching what the right color should be," he said. "We want to avoid offending any cultural or religious sensibilities."
He said officials also want to make absolutely sure there are no similarities between the ration packs and U.S. or coalition munitions.
U.S. C-17 cargo planes since Oct. 7 have dropped more than 1.2 million Humanitarian Daily Rations into Afghanistan, where officials say many people are in danger of starvation as winter descends on the country.
DoD has no reports of anyone being hurt by confusing the ration packs with munitions, but officials still felt a color change to be prudent. Halbig said there are "very rare occasions" that the bomblets don't explode on impact, "but because of the potential seriousness of the situation, we don't want there to be any confusion."
David Des Roches, a spokesman for the Defense Security Cooperation Agency in Arlington, Va., explained that the United States usually keeps about 2 million of the ration packs stockpiled to be ready whenever disaster strikes.
"You can never tell where the next disaster is going to happen," he said.
De Roches explained that the three companies that make the rations -- in Texas, Indiana and South Carolina -- are the same companies that make Meals, Ready-to-Eat for the U.S. armed forces. Many of the components are similar, but the humanitarian rations, designed with cultural sensitivities in mind, are vegetarian.
U.S. officials first realized the need for a separate humanitarian ration after experiences in Bosnia in 1992. Muslim enclaves were receiving MREs as food aid at the time, Des Roches said. The need for humanitarian rations became even more apparent in 1993 in Somalia, also a predominantly Muslim country.
One in 12 MREs is a pork patty, he said. Muslims don't eat pork for religious reasons. About a third of the MRE menus contain beef, which, for instance, Hindus don't eat for religious reasons.
"In addition to the cultural issues, the food was just too rich" -- so rich in some cases that starving people's digestive systems couldn't handle them, Des Roches said. "You have to keep in mind, MREs were designed for 18-year- old Americans."
Since the creation of Humanitarian Daily Rations, the United States has delivered more than 10 million to 22 countries around the globe.
Each ration pack contains enough food for one adult for one day. Each has 2,200 calories and all the recommended daily allowances of essential vitamins and minerals, Des Roches said. The meals are heavy in lentils and beans, to provide protein without using meat. Complete contents of the ration packs can be found on the Internet at http://www.dscp.dla.mil/subs/rations/meals/hdr.htm.
"This is a precision-engineered product to be culturally acceptable around the world," he said. "We consulted with a lot of experts." Des Roches said experts with the U.N. World Food Program, U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention all had a say in what should be included.
Officials also noted that certain components in some of the ration packs contain a small packet of preservative used to keep the item fresh. The preservative isn't dangerous, but it shouldn't be eaten.
Des Roches noted the packets, a little smaller than restaurant sugar or sweetener packets are printed with a "universal do-not-eat symbol," a picture of somebody eating something that's inside a red circle with a diagonal red line drawn through it.
"This is only in one component in a fraction of the HDRs. The substance isn't fatally dangerous even if it is ingested," he said.
For more information on Humanitarian Daily Rations or the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, visit the agency Web site at www.dsca.osd.mil.