Friday, April 10, 2009

MSF Challenges Nutriset on Plumpy'Nut

Reading between the lines of Medecins Sans Frontiere's letter to Nutriset, it seems to me that MSF is losing patience with Nutriset on both the patent issue and apparent continuing shortages of Plumpy'Nut. Special thanks to @bloodandmilk and @markarnoldy for bringing this to my attention.

Hardly a week goes by without someone emailing me privately about Plumpy'Nut these days. One of the most recent suggested that the American Peanut Council was looking into the issue (I have not confirmed this yet). So now, in addition to the moral/philosophical/legal issue about whether Plumpy'Nut should have been patented or whether the patent would withstand a challenge is the commercial pressure that major agro-businesses might want in on the action.

Will post more as I learn more.

In the meantime, here is MSF's letter to Nutriset:

Mr. Lescanne
Director General
BP 35 – Le Bois Ricard
76 770 Malaunay

Geneva, March 24, 2009

Dear Mr. Lescanne,

I am writing to you to reaffirm the position of MSF’s Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines with respect to Nutriset’s policy on intellectual property pertaining to nutritional pastes and issues concerning the production and export of such nutritional products.

Nutriset has played, and continues to play, a major role in the development and production of products used in the battle against malnutrition, which have made a large contribution to recent developments in the handling of this pathology. A growing number of international agencies and donor countries recognize the important role of ready-to-use foods. This results in an exponential increase in the consumption of these products, which can create serious stresses in the supply chain, as was the case in the second quarter of 2008. It is becoming urgent to increase and diversify the capacity to produce nutritional pastes.

In fact, the success of treatment of malnutrition with ready-to-use foods is arousing increasing interest among producers. This is good news and offers an opportunity to support the emergence of capacity to produce these nutritional products, especially in the countries of the South. Such a development would also create the conditions for better availability and a possible reduction in their prices, which would facilitate their supply in regions of the countries affected.

Currently, Nutriset allows NGOs, as well as several manufacturers under Nutriset franchise, to produce ready-to-use foods. However, agreements of this type include restrictions and limitations that can discourage other producers. At a meeting held in Rome in March 2007 that brought together a number of international agencies working in the field of nutrition, Nutriset made a proposal addressing this problem. Nutriset contemplated granting licences to producers in the South for the manufacture and export of ready-to-use foods in return for the payment of a fair royalty in the countries where patents are in force, in parallel to its franchise system. This proposal could indeed stimulate production on a larger scale and help to lower prices. We regret that this offer was not effectively followed up on a large scale and ask that you make it public and post it on your website so that any interested producer might benefit from it.

For reasons that are obvious, the intellectual property pertaining to nutritional products of a humanitarian nature must be handled differently from that pertaining to commercial products. As you know, we believe that, in the humanitarian field of nutrition, patents should be filed only on an exceptional basis, and when they exist, licencing agreements should be offered to third parties on flexible terms and conditions, so as to ensure the widest possible availability of nutritional products of a humanitarian nature.

This is also important with respect to supplements of ready-to-use products, such as Plumpy’doz®, which was developed with the participation of Médecins Sans Frontières. If such a product were recommended for young children by providers of food aid, the needs could be exponential. The supplies required for the delivery of such nutritional products adapted to young children would only be possible in the long term through the diversification of supply.

MSF, as well as other agencies working in the battle against malnutrition, can no longer continue to depend on a single source of supply for ready-to-use products. The current position of Nutriset in this regard is a source of concern to some of these agencies, as it is to MSF. We therefore encourage Nutriset to play a key and innovative role in the management of its intellectual property by offering humanitarian licencing agreements for the production and export of ready-to-use products.

I look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely,

Tido v. Schön-Angerer

Executive Director

Médecins Sans Frontières International

Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines


foodfundie said...

Dear Ms. Gorman,
I underatand only too well the frustration with Nutriset. On the one hand they purport to be a philanthropic organization dedicated to fighting vistims of SAM whilst on the other hand they are holding onto both the patent for Plumpy Nut as well as their totally inefficient distribution network.
I became interested in this project 15 months ago. My interest was in expanding the manufacture and distribution of Plumpy Nut to a broader base. I made numerous attempts to contact Nutriset both via email and direct telephone calls. They promised to respond but never did.
Minor background - Plumpy Nut was actually field tested in Malawi by Dr. Mark Manary of Washington University and Dr. Steven Collins of Valid International along with Andre Briend doing the science. Andre Briend I believe assigned or licensed the patent to Nutriset. Nutriset in turn have granted Dr. Colins not for profit organization, Valid International a master distribution and franchising license. Both Nutriset and Valid have licensed local producers to manufacture and sell Plumpy Nut. The assigned manufacturers are small local producers with limited capacity dependent on large tenders from UNICEF, The CLinton Foundation and a few other aid organizations.
Regarding the patent, I think your conclusions regarding prior art as well as obvious food product are exactly correct. I am very surprised that Nutriset would issue a cease and desist, particularly to organizations attempting to treat SAM.
I believe a testing is ongoing with a soy substitute for the powdered milk. I have spoken to food engineering companies who believe a replicated product with minor changes would be easy to manufacture and secure from legal action.
I personally believe a commercial product is the right answer - produced and packaged for retail sales, community distribution in partnership with large local food distributors. The exclusive franchise agreements granted by Nutriset and Valid will have difficulty producing in quantity or expanding beyond the Not-for-profit model.

Watchdog said...

Diva Nutritional Products in Cape Town, South Africa has been accredited by UNICEF as an approved supplier of an alternative to PlumpyNut, namely IMUNUT. see there website:

Shaun King said...

Hello Christine,

I am a pastor in downtown Atlanta and also an advocate of RUTF's like PlumpyNut around the world.

I have some questions for you. Could you email me @

Christine Gorman said...

Thanks, Shaun. I am happy to address whatever questions I can but why not post them here so that all can benefit? Christine

Anonymous said...

Dear all, apparently this IMUNUT product is almost 1/2 the price of the Plumpy'nut when delivered to the needed child in Africa!
Now, let's make a simple calculation: 1/2 the price = feeding double the amount of children with the same amount of money... Downers where are you?

Anonymous said...

oops, Donors

Anonymous said...

Hi Christine,

I've been working on the patent issue since we spoke 2 or 3 years ago. There are several groups in the US who can make the product inexpensively and in volume once there is a patent resolution.

I don't know how they got a patent on a recipe especially since people have been blending peanut paste with other foods since the Aztecs. For example the ingredients for reduced fat peanut butter are identical to RUF: peanuts; sugar; ;oil; vitamins and minerals. In other words they are in conflict with the patent yet they've been on the market since 1994.

You may want to post a copy of MSF's followup letter to Nutriset (November 13). They call Nutriset's actions "an abuse in relation to humanitarian products", so they are really upping the ante.

Jeff Johnson

Unknown said...

Dear Christine,

I am writing from Delhi. We run a service delivery project focused on villages in one of the poorest states of India. With the Indian government not allowing plumpynut to be available in India, do you know the status of alternatives?

Best regards,