For many, the humble peanut is a kitchen-shelf essential.

Only recently has its nutritional power been used to save and improve lives. George Birdsong calls it the “Halo” effect around peanuts and something the industry is now coming together to bolster and tout.

Thirty five representatives from across the peanut industry met recently at the Methodist Church of Blakely, Ga., to discuss what they can collectively do to organize and expand the industry’s humanitarian activities.

The first such roundtable was held last year prior to the festival. A steering committee was charged then. But getting the collective “arms around such a broad industry effort” has been a challenge.

“This is an industry effort, not just a private effort or just an individual one. And when we see an industry coming together through the growers, the shellers, the manufacturers and all the different groups trying to create, or focus, the humanitarian efforts, I think it is creating a halo around the industry. … We’re not perfect, but we’re trying to do some good here,” said Birdsong, who heads Birdsong Peanuts and led the discussion in Blakely.

Malnutrition and starvation causes more damage to man than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined, suppressing less-developed parts of the world.

The peanut has for many decades been known as a staple nutritional food. But only in the last decade has its energy been harnessed to fight malnutrition and bring much-needed relief to those hurt by natural disasters.

“People are really beginning to realize how valuable peanuts can be,” Birdsong said. “We really do have somewhat of a super food.”

Global aid groups, including UNICEF and the United Nation World Food Program, now use peanut-based, ready-to-use therapeutic foods, or RUTFs. Packaged in several ways, the vitamin-rich paste has become the “Gold Standard” tool to effectively and efficiently fight acute malnutrition around the world. Combined, UNICEF and WFP buy 1,250 metric tons of the stuff annually, said Jamie Rhoads, an agronomist with Meds and Food for Kids, a St. Louis-based non-profit aid group cultivating peanut growth and producing RUTFs in Haiti.

“And that RUTF, peanut-based demand is expected to continue if not increase,” Rhoads said.