The "Food Is Not Enough" report is highly critical of the corn-soy blend still used by major humanitarian organizations to feed the starving, as it requires water and with that there is a risk of contamination. At a Doctors Without Borders press conference this month, nutritionist Milton Tectonidis called for a "paradigm shift" away from corn-soy blends and toward more RUFs, not only for acutely malnourished but also for the moderately malnourished children. Tectonidis also wants more companies to develop more RUFs.
USAID officials told me that they've funded Plumpy'Nut programs for about three years and consider it a successful tool in treating severely malnourished children. They also believe corn-soy blends have their place and want to see more data on Plumpy'Doz.
What about others taking the child's food? "We are under no illusion that the malnourished child is the only one who eats the ration," Shepherd told me. If a child does not gain weight, workers look for a medical reason or put the child in a secure setting, where he is sure to get the nutrition he needs.
For the most part, Shepherd noted, the Niger program relies on "a mother feeding her child nutritionally appropriate food." Precious few families dropped out, as mothers have seen their children gain weight quickly.
Only 3 percent of children with severe malnutrition have access to RUFs. In developing countries, 146 million children under the age of 5 are underweight. A daily dose costs about a dollar.
"If you feed them well until they're 2 or 3 years old," Tectonidis told "60 Minutes," "it's won. They're healthy; they can get a healthy life. If you miss that window, it's finished."