Medical NGO MSF claimed in an open letter that the quality of US food aid for children undermines the country's support for a campaign on the importance of quality nutrition in a child's first 1,000 days.
The 1,000 Days campaign was prompted by findings published in The Lancet in 2008 confirming that gestation and the first two years of life were a "window of opportunity", when nutrition programmes had an enormous impact on a child's development, with life-long benefits.
Yet, US corn soya blend and other fortified blended flour destined for children contain no animal-source food, which is not ideal for children younger than two or moderately malnourished children, says Emi MacLean, US manager for the Access Campaign for Essential Medicines of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).
MSF has been lobbying for some years for reforms in international food aid for young children, who are most affected in a food security crisis.
"Nutritional experts under the auspices of the World Health Organization reaffirmed in October 2008 the current formulations of FBF [fortified blended flour] are not what young children need," MSF said in the letter to the US government.
Most international food aid for children consists of fortified blended flour, which does not include animal-source protein such as milk and may lack minerals and vitamins.
But US food aid policy could be changing. In response to MSF's criticism, a US Agency for International Development (USAID) spokeswoman pointed to a blog post written by Ertharin Cousin, the US ambassador to the UN agencies, including WFP and FAO in Rome.
Cousin noted that the US Congress had earmarked $14 million for a pilot project to "field-test new or improved micronutrient-fortified food aid products" and to innovate around the nutritional content and composition of food aid products.
Cousin also mentioned a study being conducted by the Tufts University's Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy - funded by a $1.5 million grant for a two-year project from USAID - to examine the quality of US food aid operations.
The university has been asked to review "the state of science as it relates to the nutritional needs . while considering current vitamin and mineral enrichment and fortification technologies and methods for the delivery of micronutrients in the form of supplements or powders", according to USAID. The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) is also examining the nutritional qualities of US food aid.
Aid agencies have tried to improve the quality of food for young children but were stymied by the cost.
Christopher Barrett, from Cornell University, said: "The higher quality the food - in terms of nutrient richness, shelf-stability, etc. - the more it costs. So we can feed fewer people better or more people less well. That's an unpleasant choice with no good resolution."
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