Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Policy Point Wednesday - US Foreign Food Policy and malnutrition

Doctors without Borders, an excellent charity I am proud to support, recently released a report entitled Starved for Attention, regarding the effects of malnutrition on children outside the US.  In it, they make an interesting connection between the Corn and Soybean Blend (CNB) we offer as food aid, and malnutrition in children.
Fortified blended foods, such as corn soy blend (CSB) have long been used in food assistance programmes to prevent nutrient deficiencies. The composition has remained largely unchanged despite better knowledge about how to meet the nutritional needs of young children.
Animal (dairy) protein is best suited to maximizing growth of young children. The composition of CSB, being an exclusively plant-based food without any dairy component, is not ideal to facilitate growth of children during the first few years of life.
In a video documentary Starved for Attention: the US Standard and A Double Standard, MSF (Médecins Sans Frontières -Doctors Without Borders in its native French) shows how WIC offers children in the US high-quality food aid...but offers only CSB for international aid.  It suggests that while CSB relieves hunger, it does not offer the same nourishment as milk and fish - particularly that these flours lack easily absorbed iron, zinc and calcium.  MSF states that USAID would be both more efficient and more effective if it financially backed current nutrition support efforts, rather than exporting agricultural products.

Interestingly, the system producing CSB is the same system that has been implicated in the obesity epidemic in the US. Our current agricultural system has been engineered to increase efficiency, especially corn, soybeans and wheat.  While there is much discussion of how this came to pass, the link between unhealthy eating habits and the amount of farmland producing corn in the US has global ramifications.


Dave said...

I will be surprised if this situation ever changes, given the bottomless pockets of industrial agriculture in this country. I doubt there is more than a handful of products in any given modern supermarket that hasn't been tainted by the fingers of Big Corn.

Michele Hays said...

It's interesting how much political energy is invested in corn and soy - the overall dollars in subsidy isn't as much as one would think, programs like this one are, in effect, another subsidy:

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