Food Science

Breaking the myths of Food fortification 

The Vitamin and Mineral deficiency is known as the “THE HIDDEN HUNGER” as they are not produced in our body, they need to be consumed in minute quantities through diverse food sources. These deficiencies contribute to the vicious cycle of malnutrition, under development and poverty.

Over the last twenty years the food grain production in the country has increased from 198 million tonnes to 269 million tonnes, despite this increase the rate of malnutrition in India remains very high. Further a study by the UN World Food Programme, says that Malnutrition is passed on from generation to generation, mothers who are malnourished produce children who are stunted and underweight. A World Bank estimate indicates that reducing stunting can raise India’s GDP by 4-11 per cent.

So, what is the solution to tackle this problem? This is where the idea of food fortification comes into the page.

Food Fortification refers to adding minute quantities of Vitamins and Minerals deficient in our diets to commonly consumed foods like milk, wheat, rice, oil, salt. Fortifying food staples with vitamins and minerals such as iron, iodine, zinc, vitamin A; vitamin D is an easily available, affordable and effective way to combat nutritional deficiencies at mass level.

In India the history of Food Fortification dates back to the 1950’s when Vanaspati fortification with Vitamin A was mandated, later salt was fortified with Iodine.

MYTHS OF FOOD FORTIFICATION

In the present scenario, there are several myths revolving around food fortification, many assume that for all fortifications demand genetic modification of crops. Some think that these foods are costly and it creates a rivalry among the food products, but they are relatively cheap and have several nutritional effects, and not all fortified products are genetically modified.

Recently there was an order from FSSAI for mandatory food fortification, which drew opposition from several right wing organizations claiming that some micronutrients are sourced from animals which is against cultural beliefs and some people also argue that the body can absorb only natural nutrients present in the body rather than the fortified one.

While several myths regarding this issue are tossing up, which side of the coin are we going to choose? Fortification is a low cost solution, which benefits when the fortified crops are taken in adequate quantities. There are several companies which add nutrients above the prescribed levels which are toxic and usage of such overdose and synthetic nutrients also should be avoided. To overcome this issue FSSAI has come with a regulatory framework to regulate production of fortified foods and has introduced “F+” Logo for identification of fortified foods. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has notified Food Fortification Regulations 2018, which provide for minimum and maximum range of fortification of staples like wheat, maida, rice, salt, vegetable oil and milk. 

The Government should also make use of the well established Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid day meal scheme and ICDS to reach the masses. And it should explore approaches of bio-fortifications of food grains by enabling Agri research ecosystem.

Food Fortification can help tackle malnutrition only a part of the solution, for long term there should be awareness among people to adapt a diversified and wholesome diet.

Author, Nivendran S, Horticulture graduate and also teaches Yoga out of passion.