Scientists discussed the merits of "animal source foods" such as meat and milk as well as other approaches to diet supplementation and fortification during the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
"The diets of the poor are largely cereal-based, monotonous and lacking in diversity and micronutrients," said Montague Demment, director of the Global Livestock Collaborative Research Support Program, an effort funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development that involves scientists from a dozen U.S. universities and 60 foreign institutions. "In the modern world, we need to figure out how to get nutrients into people and do it in the proper context," he said.
There is a link between good nutrition and how well children develop, both in mind and body, according to Demment. Their school performance, in turn, can have a strong influence on the growth of their nation's economy. Sound nutrition helps ultimately to fuel national development, he said.
Biofortification, which uses conventional plant breeding techniques to increase the level of micronutrients in crops, is one possibility. It is a relatively new strategy. There are no definitive studies yet that show the impact of such nutritionally improved varieties on children, according to Howarth Bouis of the International Food Policy Institute. Initial results do suggest, however, that wide use of biofortified crops could significantly increase iron and zinc intake in poor people's diets. Research is underway to determine if those nutrients can be readily absorbed by humans.