According to a report, the distribution of iron-fortified rice through government schemes as a “magic solution” to combat anaemia in states like Jharkhand must be discontinued.
- The right to make informed dietary choices and the right to know what one consumes are basic rights. In the case of rice fortification, no prior informed consent was ever obtained from the recipients.
- The fact-finding team learned that among those who received fortified rice in Jharkhand were individuals with thalassemia, sickle cell disease and tuberculosis. Jharkhand is an endemic zone of sickle cell disorder and thalassemia (prevalence of 8%-10% cases – twice the national average).
- These are disorders in which the body already has an excess of iron, whereas TB patients are unable to absorb iron.
- Consumption of iron-fortified meals by individuals with certain disorders can impair immunity and organ functionality.
- Precision is required because no nutrient eaten in excess can benefit the human body. Hence, universal fortification is not the answer for nutrition deficiencies.
What is ‘food fortification’?
- Food fortification or enrichment is defined as the practice of adding vitamins and minerals to commonly consumed foods during processing to increase their nutritional value.
- It is a proven, safe and cost-effective strategy for improving diets and for the prevention and control of micronutrient deficiencies. For example, in 2008 and 2012, the Copenhagen Consensus ranked food fortification as one of the most cost-effective development priorities.
- Food fortification has been identified as the strategy by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to begin decreasing the incidence of nutrient deficiencies at the global level.
History of food fortification in India –
- In India, food fortification began in the 1950s with vegetable oil fortification and salt iodisation.
- In the 2000s, the government introduced fortification of other commodities such as rice and wheat after a 60-year gap between global evidence.
- The momentum accelerated in 2016 when the country’s food regulator – Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) established standards for fortification of rice, wheat flour, edible oil, double fortified salt (DFS) and milk.
- FSSAI also established the Food Fortification Resource Centre which developed the ‘+F’ logo and helped build capacity for food producers. The Centre also issued new mandates to use fortified staples in safety net programs, such as double fortified salt (DFS) and fortified edible oil through mid-day meal (MDM) and Integrated Child Development Schemes (ICDS).
- While addressing the nation on the eve of India’s 75th Independence Day, the Indian PM announced that the country is preparing to face the challenge of malnutrition head on. He also said that India will fortify all rice distributed to the poor through various government schemes, including rice distributed to children through the mid-day meal scheme, by 2024.