Experts bank on staple food fortification to combat malnutrition


ASSOCHAM organised a webinar to discuss how fortification of the daily staple commodities can help the country combat anaemia and cognitive development related issues, in an economical way

As an alarming figure of over 70% of the Indian population to date consumes less than half of the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) endorsed micronutrients (NNMB-NIN Surveys), The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM), held a webinar, on 5 November, titled “Staple Food Fortification: A cost-effective strategy to eradicate malnutrition” to discuss how fortification of the daily staple commodities including salt, rice, wheat, milk and edible oil can by and large help the country combat anaemia and cognitive development related issues, in an economical way.

The webinar, held in association with Hexagon Nutrition, marked the presence of Chief Guest Inoshi Sharma, Director (Social and Behavioral Change), FSSAI; Ravinder Singh, Joint director – Food Safety, Government of Himachal Pradesh; S N Sangma, Joint Commissioner of Food Safety Meghalaya; Deepti Gulati, Head of Programmes, Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition; Suresh Lakshminarayan, National Programme Manager, Nutrition International; Shariqua Yunus, Head of Unit & Programme Officer (Health and Nutrition) – India, United Nations World Food Programme; Neeraj Jain, Country Director – India, PATH; Vivek Arora, Senior Advisor, Tata Trusts India, and Arun Lal, Sr VP, Hexagon Nutrition.

Inoshi Sharma said, “FSSAI indeed focuses on combating food borne diseases given the kind of money ($15 bn) that is put into regulating food safety in the country.” The alarming level of malnutrition in the country makes its further important to fortify foods. Through such platforms, FSSAI strives to spread awareness about the advantages of fortified foods to both the consumers and suppliers and also to bust the myths and rumours regarding fortified foods that keep reaching out to everybody on a daily basis, added Sharma.

Ravinder Singh noted, “While dietary diversification and supplementary aid can offer some respite to help the country’s fight against malnutrition, each of them is a costly affair. Also, supplement consumption can have other side effects on health. The best way out is to fortify staple foods which are also cost-effective and has no side effects either.” Citing examples of fortification of foods in Himachal Pradesh, he said, “We are giving fortified panjeri, sewayi, and biscuits, under public distribution system (PDS), to the people of HP irrespective of their financial situation. HP is the first state to distribute 100% fortified Atta.”

The fortification activities of staples in Meghalaya started in 2019, expressed S N Sangma. “We slowly started sensitising the millers and milk processors and also organised training programmes for them. We are working on fortification seriously. We look forward to more sensitisation through such knowledge and idea-sharing platforms.”

Moderating the panel discussion Deepti Gulati asked the panellists about how the many stakeholders can ideate to amplify staple food fortification availability and awareness within the country.

Shariqua Yunus echoed the two concerning points that decelerate the fortified staple foods from reaching the whole country – Complex Supply Chain and short-timed shelf life of fortified foods. “The short-timed shelf life of the fortified food staples can however become an opportunity, to ensure faster supply,” she added.

Expressing the states’ willingness to fortify food staples, Suresh Lakshminarayan stated, “We are supporting the double fortification programme of salt in Gujarat and MP. The political commitment and will to implement the need for the fortification of the foods is quite impressive. The states have been formulating budgets to ensure the fortification of salt is happening.”

Citing the benefits of fortification of rice, however not solely regarding it for the positive nutritional changes in the consumers, Neeraj Jain said, “PATH has been working for 20 years now for rice fortification. We managed to get to state that rice fortification is good enough to tackle anaemia. We have seen anaemia decline by 10 per cent; 9 per cent decline in underweight, among others. Though it looks complex when it comes to fortification and reaching the public, rice is a large part of the basket of the PDS. Rice is the vehicle that could reach the masses easily.”

Vivek Arora elucidated how fortified milk forms an important part of nutrition. As milk itself is a good carrier of Vitamin D, fortified milk can help plug malnutrition woes and also help cognitive development of children if included in the breakfast of the mid-day meal programme of schools and anganwadis. “Though milk is a good carrier of Vitamin D, it needs to be fortified for the population level as it is not seen when it comes in its raw form right from milking to reaching the dairy. We took the fortification initiative with the co-operatives across the country. Now over 175 lakh litres of milk is fortified with Vitamin A &D and 100+ dairies in the state are fortifying milk. Several private dairies have also followed suit of the fortification programme.”

Arun Lal spoke about the importance of micronutrient premixes in fortification. “Micronutrients are the heart of food fortification. AS the pandemic struck, people learned the importance of consuming more and more immunity-boosting fortified foods. The past six months in the pandemic has seen a rise in food fortification.” He further added how various accreditations are required for any nutraceutical industry, and certain measures that the nutraceutical companies must adhere to, as the quality, useability and relevance of the micronutrient premix would further deliver the benefits to the masses.

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