“We believe that agriculture and food industry leaders can and should play a key role in responding to the HIV/AIDS pandemic,” American Soybean Association President Dwain Ford of Kinmundy, Ill., said at a business briefing on “Food as the Front-line Defense.”

Ford said the dialogue at a recent Chicago meeting between agribusiness leaders and health and nutrition experts will help the soybean industry better understand how to meet the immediate needs of those fighting the disease, and assist in the development of sustainable nutrition for the long-term.

Because protein requirements of HIV-infected persons jump 50 to 100 percent higher than normal levels, soy appears well suited to meet many of the food and nutrition challenges faced by people with the disease.

“Already the vast majority of recommended calorie-containing nutritional supplements in the United States and other developed countries contain soy ingredients for optimum nutrition,” said Cade Fields-Gardner, nutrition consultant for the World Initiative for Soy in Human Health (WISHH) Program.

“Even when consumed in small doses, soy may be ideally suited to help nutritional requirements for high-quality protein, calories, and more,” Fields-Gardner said. “Soy foods also come in many forms and concentrations, which make soy-based foods one of the easiest ways to increase protein in locally preferred diets.”

Soybean leaders, in corporation with the American Soybean Association and the United Soybean Board, formed WISHH in 2000 to build bridges with those countries where rapidly growing populations of all income levels could benefit from soy in their diets.

“Soybean growers launched the World Initiative for Soy in Human Health Program because we care about the people who don’t have enough food right now, and because we recognize that the developing countries of today are tomorrow’s customers of soy. Our hearts for humanity, coupled with our heads for business, must drive our response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic,” said Criss Davis of Shullsburg, Wisc.

Davis, who serves as the chairman of the United Soybean Board’s International Marketing Committee, says that every one of the top 10 export countries for U.S. soy is a current or former recipient of U.S. foreign assistance.

Food aid plays a pivotal role in responding to HIV/AIDS, according to James T. Morris, executive director of the Rome-based World Food Programme. “The first thing poor families affected by AIDS ask for is not cash or drugs, it is food. Food has to be one of the weapons in the arsenal against this disease,” he says.

The Human Immunodeficiency Virus/ Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS) claimed more than 3 million lives in 2002. Global leaders are now focusing on the importance of good nutrition in combating the disease complex.

e-mail: dmuzzi@primediabusiness.com