India is facing cute problem of malnutrition. Lack of adequate supply of food in adequate amounts and quality is one concern. But lack of required nutrients is a bigger concern. Food fortification done in a scientific manner and on common foods will benefit a large population.
- Malnutrition isn’t just about acute starvation.
- It is true that healthy-looking people are malnourished too, because their diet does not include the right micronutrients.
- For instance, iron deficiency leads to critical problems during pregnancy, and not enough Vitamin A can lead to poor vision, infections, and skin problems.
What is food fortification?
Fortification is adding vitamins and minerals to foods to prevent nutritional deficiencies. The nutrients regularly used in grain fortification prevent diseases, strengthen immune systems, and improve productivity and cognitive development. Wheat flour, maize flour, and rice are primarily fortified to:
- Prevent nutritional anemia
- Prevent neural tube birth defects
- Increased productivity
- Improve economic progress
- Fortification is successful because it makes frequently eaten foods more nutritious without relying on consumers to change their habits.
- Vitamins and minerals often used in flour and rice fortification and their role in health include:
- Iron, riboflavin, folic acid, zinc, and vitamin B12 help prevent nutritional anemia which improves productivity, maternal health, and cognitive development.
- Folic acid (vitamin B9) reduces the risk of neural tube birth defects
- Zinc helps children develop, strengthens immune systems, and lessens complications from diarrhea.
- Niacin (vitamin B3) prevents the skin disease known as pellagra.
- Riboflavin (vitamin B2) helps with metabolism of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins.
- Thiamin (vitamin B1) prevents the nervous system disease called beriberi.
- Vitamin B12 maintains functions of the brain and nervous system.
- Vitamin D helps bodies absorb calcium which improves bone health.
- Vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of childhood blindness. It also diminishes an individual’s ability to fight infections. Vitamin A can be added to wheat or maize flour, but it is often added to rice, cooking oils, margarine, or sugar instead.
- To tackle the issue of malnutrition, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) released a set of standards and a logo last year.
- The focus has been on awareness- and consensus-building.
- Now, a number of enterprises will begin adding premixes of micronutrients to launch fortified foods.
- Milk cooperatives in Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Assam and Maharashtra will fortify their products too.
- Targeting children, the Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh governments have begun using fortified oil for their mid-day meal schemes.
- West Bengal and Andaman and Nicobar Islands are now distributing fortified wheat flour through the public distribution system, and the Maharashtra government has started a pilot project.
- The FSSAI is also working with small local suppliers, for instance local flour grinding mills, to get them to add premixed micronutrients.
- The FSSAI has decided not to interfere in pricing.
Private Sector Participation:
- Large private players are expected to join the league like –
- General Mills India, ITC, Hindustan Unilever and Patanjali will launch wheat flour, Adani Wilmar, Marico, Borges India, and Kaleesuwari Refineries are working on oil, LT Foods, DCP Food, and KKR Food are launching rices, and in salt, other brands will join Tata, which already has a double fortified brand in the market.
Innovative measures like food fortification can be a real boon to the problem of malnutrition in India. Government has to establish a framework w.r.t. the same and work on the guidelines for large scale and hassle free implementation.
Connecting the dots:
- Critically analyse the role of food fortification in tackling the problem of malnutrition in India