Peanut Butter for the Hungry Task Force Holds Bi-Annual Meeting
The Peanut Butter for the Hungry Task Force met this June at the 2016 U.S. Peanut Congress in Charleston, South Carolina.
George Birdsong, CEO Birdsong Peanuts and Task Force Chairperson, reported on the collaboration with Operation Smile to begin using ready-to-use therapeutic foods (RUTF’s) to help impoverished children in need of life-changing surgeries for cleft lip, cleft palate and other facial deformities become healthy enough to undergo their procedures. Mr. Birdsong suggested this approach to Operation Smile and, after an overwhelmingly positive study conducted by researchers from UCLA and USC, Operation Smile is starting a pilot program to supply RUTF on their missions in Ghana, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Philippines and Guatemala. The reception to this approach was so enthusiastic when Mr. Birdsong addressed the 550 people from 42 different countries at Operation Smile’s annual meeting in June, he received a standing ovation. He also received many inquiries about how to procure RUTF’s and was also contacted by LifeNet, a non-profit organ transplant organization, about how RUTF’s could help their patients.
The Task Force also heard from Gregg Grimsley, President of Peanut Proud, who reported on the Peanut Proud Festival as well as humanitarian efforts for 2016. The 9th Annual Peanut Proud Festival, held March 19, was a tremendous success with free entertainment, including a concert by Tracy Lawrence, over 100 vendors, parade with over 100 entries and over 10,000 in attendance. Mr. Grimsley reported that the Peanut Proud Festival, though now a separate entity from Peanut Proud Inc, and organized by community members, takes every opportunity to help promote peanuts and Peanut Proud Humanitarian effort. Peanut Proud, Inc. the humanitarian organization supported mostly by industry donations, was able to donate 60,000 jars of peanut butter to food assistance facilities through the first half of 2016 and is scheduled to donate another 60,000 during the rest of the year. Peanut Proud also donated 27,000 jars of peanut butter to disaster relief efforts in Louisiana in March and are prepared for more donations should disaster strike again.
Darlene Cowart, Birdsong Peanuts, spoke to the Task Force about this year’s Peanut Proud Scholarship winner, Soon Kiat Lau. Kiat is a PhD student in the Department of Food Science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. His research focuses on using radiofrequency and microwave heating to pasteurize food products, mainly peanut butter. The Peanut Proud scholarship is awarded annually to a graduate student studying food science or safety and allows deserving recipients to attend the International Association for Food Protection Annual Meeting, to learn about the latest food safety issues and connect with other industry, academic and governmental food safety professionals.
Stephanie Grunenfelder, Senior Vice President of the American Peanut Council (APC), addressed the Task Force about the USDA funded Emerging Markets Program (EMP) in Haiti. Together with Edesia and Meds and Food for Kids (MFK), APC received USDA/EMP funds to analyze the consumer snack food market in Haiti to determine if there was an opportunity to sell peanut-based ready-to-use supplemental (RUSF) products commercially. The first step of the project was to conduct focus groups of parents and school children, to see if there was interest and/or opportunity for these nutritionally enhanced foods to be sold to school children. Haitians, it was discovered, do not necessarily follow the same three-meal-a-day pattern as is typical in the United States. Instead, they buy snacks during school and are often sent to school with money to do so. The focus groups indicated that students might buy peanut-based RUSF if they were priced appropriately. As part of the project, a report to assist APC and MFK understand the marketplace and how such a product might be made available for sale was prepared. In January of 2016, Ms. Grunenfelder and APC consultant Chris Goldthwait traveled to Haiti to observe MFK’s operation and understand how peanut-based foods are utilized. They saw a feeding clinic, a pediatric hospital, visited peanut farming operations and toured the RUTF and RUSF factory in Cap Haitian.
The meeting concluded with discussion of next steps for Peanut Butter for the Hungry, including creation of a “Hold Your Own Peanut Butter Drive” kit, stronger implementation of the PB4H website to drive donations and continued cooperation with current partners.