Fighting famine with peanut paste freed from patent protection

It’s called Plumpy’nut, a nutritionally fortified peanut-based food paste that’s one of the primary weapons in the battle against starvation in the Horn of Africa.

And it well may be in wider use in the famine in East Africa because of some folks who months earlier filed a lawsuit challenging a patent on Plumpy’nut.

Here’s an NBC video report about a non-profit Rhode Island manufacturer of Plumpy’Nut (preceded by an ad for Nutri-Grain) and a famine refugee camp in Dadaab Kenya featuring children treated for malnutrition:

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There have been a number of similar stories recently, on CNN, in Fast Company and other media. Most follow a similar story line, describing this amazingly cheap, simple and powerful nutritional product and its use to fight hunger and malnutrition around the world.

What gets little mention in most of these stories is that Plumpy’nut was invented and patented by a French company, Nutriset, many years ago. And when these other companies, like the one profiled by NBC, wanted to get in on the action of producing this humanitarian foodstuff a patent protection legal battle ensued.

Here’s a BBC story on the legal battle last year and another one by the UN’s news service IRIN describing the pressure on Nutriset to allow others to produce Plumpy’nut.

Nutriset eventually bowed to pressure and has allowed other organizations to produce Plumpy’nut under a Patents Usage Agreement.

 

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Editor Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom-at-humanosphere.org, follow him on Twitter @tompaulson and/or send a comment below.