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Europe Drowns in Milk While Children in Malnutrition Hotspot Countries Don’t Get a Drop

Paris – 25 September 2009 – As European milk farmers threaten to strike, pour away millions of litres of milk and hand milk out for free, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) calls attention to the millions of young children in Africa and Asia, damaged for life by a lack of milk in their diet.  

The international medical humanitarian agency called on donors to take advantage of free fall of milk prices from 4000 to 1800 euros per ton, to put an end to supporting food aid programmes for children under two that are more adapted to feeding livestock than young children.

When young children do not have access to animal-based protein such as milk it has been proven that their brains are less developed, their immune systems also, leaving them vulnerable to disease, their growth is stunted and they are at dramatically increased chance of dying before their fifth birthday.

Yet today donors continue to provide food aid in the form of cereal that has no animal source food.

“I want to be clear, we are not saying ship surplus European milk to Africa and malnutrition hotspots in Asia, but we are saying that if our governments continue to provide food aid without milk, we should be as angry as the milk farmers are,” said Stéphane Doyon, MSF’s Nutrition Team Leader. “Children in some poor countries face increased risk of death because they are relying on food aid without milk powder.”

Food aid has been tied to agriculture surpluses. So the donated food basket had been defined by what was available as surplus rather than according to the nutritional needs of recipients. As a result today’s food aid is blended flour without animal source protein such as milk and without essential minerals and vitamins. Blended flour is still being used although most European donors today provide money to buy food, not food itself.

The mentality is beginning to change. MSF supports the World Food Programme’s (WFP) new focus on food quality as well as quantity. The WFP has launched a drive to sharpen the focus on children under two years old and target them with the right type of food, bought locally whenever possible.

But the move to improve the quality of food directed at young children has been stymied by the fact that adding milk to the traditional porridge increases the cost. Since the WFP is facing a 50 percent shortfall in money to buy food, they have so far been fighting a losing battle to raise the additional money to improve food aid directed at young children.

“MSF deals with the medical consequences of sub-standard food aid in our field work, but it’s up to donor countries to figure out what needs to change politically to stop giving the equivalent of animal feed to vulnerable children under two,” said Doyon. “We are simply saying, as a solution is being found for farmers who are drowning in milk, don’t forget the 178 million children facing under nutrition that don’t get a drop.”

For more information, please contact Guillaume Bonnet, Press Officer, +41 79 203 13 02

Page updated: 25 September 2009
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