Plumpy’nut is a famine food made by Nutriset and available by prescription to starving and malnourished children, particularly in Africa. The food consists of a peanut butter base mixed with powdered milk and powdered sugar. The mixture is then fortified with essential vitamins that may otherwise be lacking in the malnourished children’s diets.
The product was formulated in 1996 by french pediatric nutritionist Andre Briend. There are now at least five franchises manufacturing and distributing Plumpy’nut in Africa, and one in the Caribbean – in the Dominican Republic. Since 1997 the Nutriset company has been aggressively defending its patent of Plumpy’nut in the United States, so far successfully preventing similar products from being manufactured there. These profit-motivated actions have drawn international condemnation because shutting down would-be manufacturers prevents much needed food relief from reaching those who need it around the world. This prioritization clearly shows that Nutriset’s is primarily concerned with profit margins and only secondarily concerned at best with global humanitarian efforts.
When a child does get access to Plumpy’nut, the product is given in a form more similar to a treatment than a diet. The Plumpy’nut product is used to facilitate rapid weight gain in severely malnourished children, often meaning the difference between life and death for that child. The standard treatment protocol for Plump’nut is the thrice daily administration of Plumpy’nut, sometimes given simultaneously with a similar product such as Unimix, for four weeks.
Plumpy’nut is very effective at treating acute malnutrition and starvation because it is so nutrient dense and calorie dense that even children with severely shrunken stomachs can get a lot of energy out of even a small amount of the food very soon after it is consumed. The mixture has been used to help combat hunger in the Darfur region of Sudan, as well as in the poverty stricken Niger Delta. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Malawi and Mozambique have all begun local distribution operations of Plumpy’nut as well.
Generally, Plumpy’nut is packaged in local peanut producing areas. Regular peanut butter is made and it is fortified with powdered milk and powdered sugar and a slurry of vitamins and minerals obtained from the parent company; Nutriset. The product requires no water, preparation or refrigeration, and has a 2 year shelf life from the date of manufacture. It contains vitamins A, B complex, C, D, E and K. Bio-available minerals include calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, zinc, copper, iron, iodine, selenium and sodium. The Plumpy’nut product is recognized by the World Health Organization as being a Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF), and as such plays an important role in fighting famine and malnutrition worldwide.