Buy milk when you can

The plunging milk prices that made European dairy farmers to go on strike have also prompted international medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to urge donors to grab the opportunity to donate milk powder which could be integrated into food aid directed at small children in Africa and Asia.



"Children in some poor countries face increased risk of death because they are relying on food aid without milk powder," said Stéphane Doyon, MSF's Nutrition Team Leader. European farmers dumped millions of litres of milk during the two-week strike, which has now been suspended until 5 October.



The price of skim-milk powder more than doubled to between US$5,100 per metric ton and $5,200 per metric ton at the height of the food price crisis in 2007, when demand for dairy products peaked in India and China, the world's most populated countries, said Merritt Cluff, a senior economist in the commodities section of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.









''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''

The price dropped to $1,750 in March 2009, "but it has begun to rise again and by August it was $2,100 per metric ton, and is expected to continue to rise again". Cluff said it was a feasible option for aid agencies to place orders for the commodity when prices were low.



Most food aid consists of blended flour, which does not include animal-source protein such as milk and essential minerals and vitamins; blended flour is still being used, although most European donors now provide money to buy food, rather than donate food, Doyon told IRIN. He said aid agencies had tried to improve the quality of food for young children but had been stymied by the cost.



"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," Doyon said.



"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 undernutrition, who don't get a drop.'"



Milk powder is one of the main ingredients in ready-to-use therapeutic food known to be effective in preventing and treating malnutrition.



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