October 14, 2010
By Katie Nguyen
LONDON (AlertNet) – Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has accused rich nations such as the United States of offloading food it would not feed its own children to poorer countries as food aid.
MSF said the world’s biggest donors of food aid — including the U.S., Canada, Japan and the European Union — continued to supply and fund nutritionally “substandard” food to developing countries, despite scientific evidence showing it was of little value in reducing child malnutrition.
“Foods we would never give our own children are being sent overseas as food aid to the most vulnerable children in malnutrition hotspots in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia,” MSF’s international president Unni Karunakara said in a statement issued ahead of World Food Day on Oct. 16.
“This double standard must stop.”
MSF said 195 million children across the world suffered from malnutrition, which occurs not only because of a shortage of calories but also a lack of particular nutrients. Malnutrition was the underlying cause of at least one-third of the eight million deaths of under-fives annually, MSF said.
Health experts agree that preventing lifelong damage from malnutrition hinges on providing the right diet of high-quality protein, essential fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals in the first two years of a child’s life, a “critical window”.
Yet food aid largely does not include these essential ingredients for early childhood development, MSF said.
It said most child nutrition programmes in developing countries and supported by international food aid depend heavily on fortified blended flours such as corn- and soy-blend (CSB) cereals.
However, CSB cereals do not meet international standards for the nutritional needs of under-twos, MSF said, citing the views of a World Health Organisation panel of nutrition experts in 2008 which found that CSB was inappropriate for treating malnourished children.
“Despite an international consensus on the most appropriate nutritional composition of foods for malnourished children, donor countries continue to subsidise and supply a one-size fits all product that we know fails to meet this standard and to decrease the risk of death due to malnutrition,” said Susan Shepherd, MSF nutrition advisor, in the same statement.
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