February 28, 2024

Syllabus: General studies Paper 2

Context:

A group of health experts in India have raised concerns about the country’s strategy to fight malnutrition through food fortification. They argued for “extreme caution” in implementing new chemical interventions to address micronutrient deficiencies.

What is 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.

Need of fortification:

Fortification is necessary to address deficiency of micronutrients or micronutrient malnutrition, also known as “hidden hunger”, a serious health risk. Unfortunately, those who are economically disadvantaged do not have access to safe and nutritious food. Others either do not consume a balanced diet or lack variety in the diet because of which they do not get adequate micronutrients. Often, there is considerable loss of nutrients during the processing of food.

Fortification in India:

Currently government is promoting fortification in following 5 food items:

Rice: Department of Food & Public Distribution (DFPD) has been running a “Centrally Sponsored Pilot Scheme on Fortification of Rice & its distribution through Public Distribution System”. The scheme was initiated in 2019-20 for a three-year pilot run. This scheme will run till 2023 and rice will be supplied to the beneficiaries at the rate of Re 1 per kilogram.

  • For rice fortification, Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distributionis the nodal agency

Wheat: The decision on fortification of wheat was announced in 2018 and is being implemented in 12 states under India’s flagship PoshanAbhiyaan to improve nutrition among children, adolescents, pregnant mothers and lactating mothers.

Edible oil: Fortification of edible oil, too, was made compulsory across the country by FSSAI in 2018.

Milk: Fortification of milk was started in 2017 under which the National Dairy Development Board of India (NDDB) is pushing companies to add vitamin D.

Benefits of fortification:

  • High benefit-to-cost ratio: 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. While an initial investment to purchase both the equipment and the vitamin and mineral premix is required, the overall costs of fortification are extremely low.
  • No socio-cultural barriers: 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
  • No alteration of food characteristics: It does not alter the characteristics of the food like the taste, aroma or the texture of the food
  • Quick implementation: It can be implemented quickly as well as show results in improvement of health in a relatively short period of time.
  • Wide reach: Since the nutrients are added to widely consume staple foods, fortification is an excellent way to improve the health of a large section of the population, all at once.

Issues with fortification:

  • Impact on fetal development: Consumption of excess iron by pregnant women can adversely affect fetal development and birth outcomes. These children have increased risk of contracting chronic diseases.
  • Loss of natural protective substances: Sometimes, fortification can have the opposite effect. Natural foods contain protective substances such as phytochemicals and polyunsaturated fat that are adversely affected by the process of blending micronutrients.
  • Impact on small industries: Fortification creates an assured market for multinationals. It could threaten the livelihoods of small units across India. Like, in case of rice and oil processing.
  • No direct link b/w anaemia & iron deficiency: There is no direct link between anaemia and iron deficiency. Anaemia is high among poor children in the rural areas but iron deficiency is more among the urban and rich across the country.

Way forward:

Instead of pushing food fortification, the money will be better spent on alternative diet based sustainable solutions and improving the access to quality healthcare in the public sector.

Question-How food fortification can help in reducing hidden hunger. Explain.

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