Micronutrient Fortification  
Enhancing Quality and Formulation of Food Aid

The Food for Peace program (Public Law 480, Title II), established in 1954 in a post-war atmosphere of agricultural surpluses, has provided a lifeline to millions of hungry people in developing countries. Through this program, administered jointly by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the United States has been and remains the world’s largest food aid donor to undernourished populations. However a 2007 review of food aid programs by the U.S. General Accountability Office (GAO) highlighted a number of quality issues with food aid, which are of concern to policy makers. Lack of substantive change to food aid commodity formulations over the program’s history also raises the question of whether food aid meets the needs of today’s vulnerable populations.

Several SUSTAIN initiatives past and current focus on enhancing product quality and improving nutrient delivery to Food for Peace beneficiaries. The ongoing Food Aid Quality Enhancement Project, launched in February 2004 with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has two primary objectives: 1) strengthening food aid commodity quality systems, and 2) identifying nutritional and functional parameters for food aid product reformulation/development that better address the needs of today’s food aid recipients.

The successfully completed USDA funded Food Aid Quality Project, comprised two components of a three part initiative announced jointly by USAID and USDA in 2007 to evaluate and enhance critical components of quality assurance as well as current food aid formulations to better address the needs of at-risk recipients.

History and Background:

Among the people most at risk from a nutritional standpoint are mothers, children and refugees who depend on emergency and developmental feeding programs overseas, as well as the growing number of people living with HIV/AIDS. Under Title II of U.S. Public Law 480, the United States annually donates more than 2 million metric tons of food aid commodities to refugee and maternal and child feeding programs worldwide. In emergency situations, food aid is a lifeline to the hungry.

The addition of specified micronutrients to food aid commodities beginning in the 1980s was a critical improvement to the Food for Peace Program, but nearly two decades lapsed before the government instituted requirements for the regular testing and monitoring of micronutrient levels in P.L. 480 commodities (USDA, EOD-56). The new federal attention to quality control came in part as a response to SUSTAIN’s comprehensive evaluation of food aid micronutrient content from points of production to consumption. This revealed inconsistent micronutrient levels in food aid commodities leaving production sites, inadequate federal oversight of quality control processes in the manufacture of food aid commodities, as well as significant micronutrient losses during meal preparation by food aid recipients.

In its 2001 Micronutrient Compliance Review conducted for USAID, SUSTAIN found that important progress had been made by commodity manufacturers in complying with the new regulations. However, many aspects of quality control systems still needed strengthening, as quality problems and losses in the field demonstrated.

In its current food aid initiatives SUSTAIN continues to offer valuable support to agencies committed and obligated to improving the quality and nutrient profile of food aid. USDA and USAID announced their joint initiative to evaluate and enhance quality assurance and nutritional formulation of food aid products following the 2007 GAO report highlighting the need for program improvements. The 2008 farm bill, which references a SUSTAIN report on food aid, directs the agencies to improve the quality and formulation of P.L. 480 food products, and provides funding mechanisms to assure implementation [7 U.S.C. 1691].