Patna, India—The deaths of at least 22 schoolchildren in a rural Indian village were found by autopsies to be caused by toxic pesticide residue on a midday meal they were served, the Associated Press reported.

Although results expected to determine the precise chemicals involved were still pending, a government official confirmed that preliminary investigations revealed an organophosphate insecticide, used on wheat and rice crops, was the likely culprit. Officials believe the rice served at lunch was not washed properly, and that the insecticide came either from the food itself or from the cooking oil used. Villagers, however, noted to the AP reporter that the side dish of soya and potatoes seemed to be to blame, as those who did not eat it were fine.

The incident took place in Gandamal village, 50 miles north of the Bihar state capital of Patna. The free meal was given out at the children’s school, a daily occurrence within India’s massive school nutrition program. The 22 confirmed deaths happened quickly, as dozens of other children, all aged five through 12, were left seriously ill.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, September 2013