Patenting food: Plumpy’ Nut and more?

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Peanut paste sold as ‘Plumpy’Nut’, a patented concoction consisting of skimmed milk powder, sugar, vegetable fat, vitamins and minerals, has worked wonders for children suffering from malnutrition. This paste was invented by a French paediatrician and has radically changed the way malnutrition is treated in developing countries. This life saving peanut paste facilitates treatment at home, does not need to be refrigerated and can be administered by anyone, anywhere! It is so effective that it can revive malnourished children in a matter of days. This paste was first used eight years ago during the famine in Nigeria. Its success has lead to a huge increase in its demand with UNICEF increasing its purchases by 15%.

Plumpy’ Nut has been categorized as a ‘Ready to Use Therapeutic Food’. The patent is owned by a France based company Nutriset. Reportedly, the product is patented in 38 countries across the world. Two American NGOs have unsuccessfully fought for invalidating the company’s patent in 2010, arguing that it hindered them from making a similar and cheaper paste.

Interestingly, the Indian Government as blocked the import of Plumpy’ Nut into India. As reports show, Indians are producing this paste with local ingredients at much cheaper prices. Also, though Plumpy’ Nut is an efficacious solution, it undermines self reliance in food security of nation. A search on the IPO website did not reveal a patent or application for a patent filed by Nutriset for Plumpy’ Nut in India.

Swaraj’s succinct post on the implications of patenting foodstuff, like Plumpy’ Nut, brings out important questions such as: Can patents be extended to something as basic as food? Can Ready to Use Therapeutic Food qualify as essential medicines? And how does the patent system balance profits of manufacturers with existential needs of society?
A preliminary search on the IPO website, has revealed some interesting patents that have been granted to food related subject matter:
Applicant: Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, Patent No: 231016, Granted: 28/02/2009: “The present invention relates to a drink mix comprising as many as ten ingredients having health benefit, comprising of dry fruits such as date, apricot, fig, raisins, pistachio and almond, oil seeds like peanuts, legumes such as soybean, rice products like puffed rice, sugar, goose berry etc., which are dried and powdered which can be made into drink by dispersing with milk or water or juice at ambient or at hot conditions and consists of essential nutrients, vitamins, minerals and provide about 400 Kcal 7100 g.
Applicant: Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, Patent No. 241409, Granted: 01/07/2010: “The present invention relates to a formulation for dietary fiber enriched cereal bar. Cereal bars are known in different names including energy bars, granola bars, food bars, meal replacement bars, etc. Fortified with proteins vitamins, dehydrated fruits, nuts, dietary fiber, etc., they are capable of being vehicles for supplying nutraceuticals. The present invention relates to food products supplemented with dietary fiber. The term dietary fiber defined as the components of plant materials which are resistant to human digestive enzymes, such as celluloses, lignin, gums, etc. In recent years, the physiological benefits of adequate levels of dietary fiber in the diet have become more and more evident. Such benefits include the normalization of the bowel function and reduction of the occurrence of certain coloic diseases. Increased dietary fiber intake has been used in the treatment for diabetes, hypoglycemia, hypercholesterolemia, hypertriglyceridmedia. Dietary fiber has also been used as a control for metabolic rates to help prevent obesity. In view of these benefits, health authorities in US have recommended a daily consumption of 20-35 g of dietary fiber. Due to increased health consciousness and awareness of the consumers, the demand for health foods in soaring throughout the world. Snack foods have been known in India from time immemorial. All over the world, several ready to eat cereal products are prepared conventionally by puffing or expanding the cereals. Puffed rice is extensively used in the preparation of various products in most parts of South Asia. Puffed paddy, unlike puffed rice is not crisp, but more chewy and used in the preparation of savory. These two cereal products, preferably puffed rice, are used in the present invention to prepare crunchy cereal bar with added fiber. The product is a stable, convenient and ready-to-eat sweet confection, which provides energy and nutrition and could be consumed as sweet or snack in between the meals…”
This is a published application:
Applicant: Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, Application No: 505/DELNP/2004: “The present invention provides a novel cereal bar formulation comprising Jaggery or sugar in an amount of 30-50%; Glucose syrup in an amount of 25-45%; Fat in an amount of 0-15%; Puffed and expanded rice products in an amount of 8-20%; Modified starches in an amount of 0.5-5.0%; Roasted peanuts in an amount of 0-15%; and Moisture in an amount of 5-12%, all percentages being expressed in terms of weight.”
Healthy food and adequate nutrition are the catchwords of today. People are striving to develop healthy foods and formulations the world over. Rob Rhinehart, a software engineer based in San Francisco, has research and developed ‘Soylent’, a mixture of minerals including calcium, potassium, zinc, vitamins A, B, C, D, E and K. He says it contains all that the human body needs and believes it will change the way we eat. He has also published the ingredient list on his blog.

Aparajita Lath

Aparajita graduated from the WB National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata. She was formerly an editor of the NUJS Law Review. She is a lawyer based in Bangalore. All views expressed by her on the blog are her personal views.


  1. AvatarSuleman Ali

    Most foods are not going to be used as medicines, and so this is a good development. Consumers will decide on whether any given food is successful, and there is so much choice there that it is difficult to see how patent laws could be abused. Providing patent protection allows a further incentive to innovate in the area of food technology

  2. AvatarJai Anand

    I would like to point out that though in 2009, Govt. blocked import of Nutriset Plumpynut but I am not sure of the validity of the same order in present since Plumpynut is official manufactured in India by Nutrivita for Nutriset. If your report is true, then govt. is confused as they have blocked the import but allowed manufacturing of the same.


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