Tuesday, June 22, 2010

G8: Reform Food Aid System And Generate Resources to Reduce Malnutrition

TORONTO/GENEVA - June 22 - World leaders meeting at the G8 and G20 summits will not succeed in improving mother and child health in the developing world unless they fundamentally change how they address malnutrition and establish new sustainable funding sources to combat this treatable and preventable condition, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today.

Malnutrition affects 195 million children worldwide and is the underlying cause of at least one-third of the eight million annual deaths of children under five years of age. It can cause stunting, cognitive impairment, and lead to greater susceptibility to disease. The problem is inextricably linked with mother and child health, as malnourished mothers give birth to underweight children, perpetuating a vicious cycle. Many mothers living in areas of high food insecurity do not have access to foods like milk and eggs that contain the high-quality protein and other essential nutrients that their children need. Currently, most international food aid consists of nutritionally inadequate fortified corn-soy flours, which do not provide the nutrients young children need most.

"Foods we would never give our own children to eat are being sent overseas as food aid to the most vulnerable children in malnutrition hotspots in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia," said MSF International President Dr. Christophe Fournier. "This double standard must stop. As the world's leading food aid donors, G8 countries are uniquely positioned to have a major impact on reducing malnutrition. If world leaders in Muskoka and Toronto want to truly roll back mother and child mortality, it is imperative they commit to reforming key parts of the global food aid system. We know what works and what children need - let's simply get it to them."

In addition to improving the quality of food aid provided to young children, an effective overall nutrition response will require substantial financial resources. The World Bank estimates it will cost $12 billion per year to address malnutrition in the most-affected countries. In a time of global economic austerity, current funding from donors is insufficient, volatile, and unpredictable. Sustainable sources of funding through innovative financial mechanisms are required, such as the financial transaction tax currently promoted by the European Union. A share of the funds raised by such means must be earmarked to global health issues such as nutrition, HIV/AIDS treatment, and tuberculosis research.

In 2009, MSF treated 208,000 children affected by severe acute malnutrition in its programs. Although this is barely one percent of the 20 million children estimated to be affected, this represents more than 15 percent of the 1,200,000 children who received treatment.

"Nongovernmental agencies should not be expected to carry such a huge burden in fighting malnutrition," said Dr. Fournier. "Donor governments need to step up to fill the gap and help the most-affected countries follow lifesaving nutrition programs that have been successfully implemented in countries like Mexico, Thailand, and Brazil. We need sustainable sources of funding, like the proposed financial transaction levy, that dedicate a share to global health - not the one-shot pledges that G8 summits are prone to deliver."

The G8 gathering coincides with the onset of a particularly harsh "hunger gap" season in Africa's Sahel region, the period when staple food crops are exhausted before the next harvest. Most countries in the region are already experiencing increasing rates of childhood malnutrition. MSF is operating emergency nutrition programs-and reinforcing existing ones-in Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger, Mali, and Sudan.

MSF recently launched "Starved for Attention," a global multimedia campaign to highlight the crisis of childhood malnutrition and how increased childhood sickness and death can be prevented with effective nutrition interventions: www.starvedforattention.org
Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is an international medical humanitarian organization created by doctors and journalists in France in 1971. MSF's work is based on the humanitarian principles of medical ethics and impartiality. The organization is committed to bringing quality medical care to people caught in crisis regardless of race, religion, or political affiliation.
MSF operates independently of any political, military, or religious agendas.

CONTACT: Doctors Without Borders
Emily Linendoll
Press Officer
Direct: 212-763-5764 Mobile: 646-206-9387
E-mail: emily.linendoll@msf.org


Dispute Over Pesticide for California Strawberries Has Implications Beyond State
Published: June 18, 2010

SACRAMENTO — Even as the sweet strawberry harvest reaches its peak here, a bitter disagreement has erupted between the State Department of Pesticide Regulation and a scientific review committee over the approval of a new chemical, the outcome of which could affect farmers across the country.

In a report and in public testimony Thursday before the State Senate Food and Agriculture Committee, members of the review committee said the state’s decision to approve the new pesticide, methyl iodide, was made using inadequate, flawed and improperly conducted scientific research.

“I’m not in blanket opposition to the use of pesticides, but methyl iodide alarms me,” said Theodore A. Slotkin, a professor of pharmacology and cancer biology at Duke University Medical Center and a member of the scientific review committee. “When we come across a compound that is known to be neurotoxic, as well as developmentally toxic and an endocrine disruptor, it would seem prudent to err on the side of caution, demanding that the appropriate scientific testing be done on animals instead of going ahead and putting it into use, in which case the test animals will be the children of the state of California.”

But farmers here — who grow nearly 90 percent of the nation’s strawberries, a $2 billion a year industry — say the state’s proposed regulations would far exceed those set by the federal government for the chemical, which they argue would be deployed safely and only when needed.

“The 500-plus growers of strawberries in the state are largely family farmers who live where they grow,” said Carolyn O’Donnell, spokeswoman for the California Strawberry Commission. “When they make decisions about how and where they farm, they make those decisions with the health and safety of workers and the community in mind.”

For decades, farmers injected another chemical, methyl bromide, into the soil before planting strawberries. Then the Montreal Protocol international climate treaty banned methyl bromide, saying it had been found to deplete ozone. That sent regulators, farmers and the chemical industry scrambling for an alternative.

They found methyl iodide, a chemical less harmful to the ozone, but with more potential hazards to human health. In 2007 the chemical was approved by federal environmental regulators to the chagrin of many scientists. More than 50 chemists and physicians, including members of the National Academy of Sciences and Nobel laureates, had asked the federal Environmental Protection Agency not to approve the chemical.

Despite federal approval, California requires that new pesticides go through a second review, a process that federal regulators have said they are watching closely and that could lead to a re-evaluation by the Obama administration.

California has provisionally approved methyl iodide and will issue a final decision after the public comment period ends June 29.

During Thursday’s hearing, pesticide regulators voiced confidence in the scientific basis for their decision.

“The review associated with this material is the most robust and extensive in the history of the department,” said Mary-Ann Warmerdam, director of the state regulatory agency.

Ms. Warmerdam said that based on the available data, the chemical could be used safely with precautions like respirators, impermeable tarps and extra restrictions on use around schools, businesses and homes.

The scientific review committee, which was commissioned by the regulatory agency, vehemently disagreed.

This is without question one of the most toxic chemicals on earth,” said John Froines, professor of environmental health sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles. “You don’t register a chemical when you don’t have the necessary information you need.”

Once out in the environment, neurotoxic chemicals like methyl iodide contribute to neurodevelopment disorders including learning disabilities, conduct disorders, autism spectrum disorders and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, said Dr. Slotkin, who called such health disorders a “silent pandemic.”

State Senator Dean Florez, a Democrat who leads the Food and Agriculture Committee, said, “If we’re going to have to make the decision about using a toxic chemical like this, I’d like elected officials in the state of California to make this decision, not a non-elected agency and an outgoing Republican administration.”