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Red Cross Assails Use of Nonfat Dry Milk in Hunger-Relief Programs

February 06, 1986|DANIEL P. PUZO | Times Staff Writer

The inclusion of nonfat dry milk as part of hunger-relief efforts under way in famine-stricken countries has come under fire from a most unlikely source--the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The organization's opposition to the distribution of the milk in powdered form in areas of starvation involves complex cultural, sanitation and health issues, according to the World Development Forum, a newsletter published by the San Francisco-based Hunger-Project.

The United States routinely has offered nonfat dry milk, of which this nation has millions of tons in surplus, as a food commodity to impoverished regions of the globe. In some cases, the donation has caused more problems than were solved.

The Red Cross, in a recently released policy paper, is reported to have found that powdered milk frequently is distributed to areas where milk is not a part of the typical diet, which is particularly true in parts of Sub-Saharan Africa. Its sudden availability encourages the hungry to alter traditional eating habits and incorporate the foreign foodstuff. This change creates a demand for a food that, at some point, may no longer be offered free in the event U.S. government subsidies evaporate.

The Red Cross also found that powdered milk has a short shelf life when reconstituted and, consequently, is prone to contamination. Even sanitary milk often is contaminated when handled with unclean utensils or water, the newsletter stated.

Finally, the presence of nonfat dry milk discourages mothers from breast-feeding children. Its presence also exacerbates a growing problem of lactose intolerance in young children and teens from famine-stricken areas who have not consumed milk since infancy.

Despite the occasional problems with the nonfat dry milk, an official with Save the Children, said the food item should still be used in hunger efforts.

"When you are working in famine situations, then the options are limited," said Dr. Warren Berggren, the development agency's director of primary health care. "Whatever (food) we can get from donors (is used) and it doesn't replace anything. If (those areas) didn't have the milk, then they would die from starvation."

Elegance and Nutrition--Caviar's appeal is linked as much to its rich, smooth flavor as to the stylishness epitomized by those who prize, embellish and savor the expensive sturgeon eggs. Now, it seems that fish eggs are a food that more Americans should consider incorporating into their diets.

A report in the Journal of Food Science found that these eggs, or roe, are an "excellent source of high-quality protein." Roe contains a greater proportion of this essential nutrient than does the corresponding fish flesh.

Sturgeon is only one of a number of fish whose eggs offer a healthy nutritional profile. Others include: flounder, sardines, crab, salmon and mackerel.

Adding more caviar into the American diet would not be prohibitively expensive, the journal states. Most roe is discarded or used as bait.

"Roe is one of the most valuable food products from fishery sources, but it is underutilized in the United States despite a growing concern for nutrition," according to the report.

Mariko Iwasaki and Rokuro Harada, the authors, suggest that more people could be persuaded to eat fish eggs if they were offered alongside, or incorporated into, typical seafood entrees such as fillets, steaks and stews. Another option is the presentation used at many Japanese sushi bars where processed salmon or whitefish eggs commonly are served cold atop rice.

One drawback in campaigning for greater availability of roe is that the eggs contain considerably more cholesterol than fish flesh. However, the level is still only 25% of that found in chicken-egg yolks.

Undressing the Dressings--In its ongoing review of food products, Consumer Reports magazine recently evaluated 64 bottled salad dressings. The results are worth considering in light of their explosive sales growth and the continuing interest in produce and salad entrees.

The article concentrated on French- and Italian-style toppings and compared the products with a home-made version made by the magazine's staff. Of those dressings surveyed, nine received the publication's "excellent" rating.

While Consumer Reports gave its top rating to seven Italian dressings, only two of the French styles received a premium designation. Additionally, Kraft and Wish-Bone did very well, each with three products in the top nine.

The Italian dressings with an excellent rating were: Good Seasons Mild (packaged mix), Kraft Oil-Free, Kraft Presto, Lawry's (packaged mix), Pfeiffer, Wish-Bone and Wish-Bone Herbal.

The French dressings rated as excellent were Kraft Catalina and Wish-Bone Sweet 'N Spicy.

The taste tests and comparisons, which are reported in this month's issue, faulted the French dressings for a "deficiency in onion flavor (or garlic . . . ), a touch too much vinegar, or an unblended character."

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