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News: According to a UN report, India’s pilot studies on rice fortification showed a significant drop in the prevalence of anemia among schoolchildren.
What is Food Fortification?
Fortification is the addition of key vitamins and minerals such as iron, iodine, zinc, Vitamin A & D to staple foods such as rice, milk and salt to improve their nutritional content. These nutrients may or may not have been originally present in the food before processing.
What is the need for Food Fortification in India?
According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4) - 58.4% of children (6-59 months) are anemic, 53.1% women in the reproductive age group are anemic and 35.7% of children under 5 are underweight.
Fortification is necessary to address deficiency of micronutrients, also known as “hidden hunger”, a serious health risk.
Poverty issues in India prevent poor people from having a nutritious diet and Food Fortification can play an important role here.
Advantages of Food Fortification:
Food fortification has a high benefit-to-cost ratio. The Copenhagen Consensus estimates that every 1 Rupee spent on fortification results in 9 Rupees in benefits to the economy.
Fortification does not require any changes in food habits and patterns of people. It is a socio-culturally acceptable way to deliver nutrients to people.
It does not alter the characteristics of the food like the taste, aroma or the texture of the food.
It can be implemented quickly as well as show results in improvement of health in a relatively short period of time.
Since the nutrients are added to widely consumed staple foods, fortification is an excellent way to improve the health of a large section of the population, all at once.
Concerns with Food Fortification:
The one-sided portrayal of fortification as a ‘cure-all’: Without any significant scientific perspective and evidence on fortification.
Wrt anemia, haemoglobin synthesis doesn’t happen with just iron alone; many other elements are required in far larger quantities, especially good quality protein, vitamin B and C, folic acid, among others. Adding more iron will only succeed in increasing ferritin—an iron storage protein, but won’t lead to haemoglobin synthesis, or treatment of anaemia.
It is perceived as a flawed approach to address menace of malnutrition in India. What India needs is a diversified dietary habits that includes proteins, enough calories intake etc.
The researchers are worried that the push towards fortification is more to help the industry than the people and is an international market driven solution and without any scientific logic.
The studies which FSSAI relies on to promote fortification are sponsored by private food companies.
Fortification in India:
Currently government is promoting fortification in following 5 food items - Rice, salt, edible oil, milk and wheat.
Instead of fortification, the quality of diet should be improved. Increasing the intake of foods from animal sources and fruits would be more helpful.
Food can be grown through Amrut Krishi, an organic farming technique that would lead to an increase in food nutrition.
Another solution was breast feeding with proper latching techniques. It could make critical impacts on nutrition deficiency in the critical first 1,000 days.
Connect local communities, farmers, micro, small and medium processors and others with local nutrition programmes.