Food Fortification – A sustainable solution to fight hidden hunger in a globalized world.

Extreme poverty, no matter where it occurs, poses a threat to human welfare. According to the World Food Programme, nearly 690 million people went hungry in2019, up 10 million from 2018 and nearly 60 million in five years.

The most recent Hidden Hunger studies ignore the consequences of the projected disasters in2020, where hunger and undernutrition are already serious, placing their populations at greater risk of acute food shortages and chronic hunger in the future. Millions of people are facing food and nutrition insecurity as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing economic downturn, which is compounded by conflict and climate extremes.

A worldwide shift to combat hidden hunger must be triggered by numerous governmental bodies and non-governmental organizations collaborating with food producers to process food in such a way that micronutrient shortages are eventually addressed. Micronutrients can be mixed with staple foods like rice, oil, wheat, or maize flour, as well as condiments like salt, for a very low cost.

As a result, food fortification is a low-cost breakthrough with long-term human capital and economic benefits. As part of broader national efforts to combat chronic undernutrition, food fortification is one of the most cost-effective and reliable investment opportunities.

On that note, Hexagon Nutrition, as a leader in supporting responsible nutrition in India and around the Globe, hosted a webinar on Food Fortification – A Sustainable Solution to Combat Hidden Hunger in a Globalized World on March 2nd,2021, in collaboration with ASSOCHAM.

Welcoming the esteemed speakers & setting the context Mr. Vivek Chandra, CEO, LT Foods & Co-Chair, National Food Processing council, ASSOCHAM, said The problem of malnutrition is severe & has been off stated and off stressed many a time. It is also a fact that the current Indian food plate cannot deliver the required amount of nutrients and micronutrients.” NNMB also has time and again proved that apart from cereals and millets the Indian households fail to have the desired amounts of RDA.

“Recognizing this there have been several Govt. initiatives that seek to improve the nutritional status of the country. In a nutshell, as per ICDS, the strategies adopted to address malnutrition & hidden hunger are nutrition and health education, dietary diversification & micronutrient supplementation. Having said that the global problem of malnutrition persists & it is in this context that food fortification is seen as a viable, scientifically proven, WHO approved & cost-effective strategy.”

“FSSAI has now established the level of fortification that is needed at the staple food consumption level to combat malnutrition & hidden hunger. Such standards & standardized processes can provide the required solutions for the large scale population both at rural & urban communities.” he further added

Mr. Vikram Kelkar, Group Managing Director, Hexagon Nutrition Highlighted on Nutraceutical Industry Perspective – Challenges & opportunities in Nutraceutical Industry during & post Pandemic. He mentioned that “The demand for nutraceuticals with health benefits and lifestyle changes are two key factors driving the market growth. The focus of Nutraceutical players is now shifting towards developing economies, especially those across the Asia Pacific, including India. Currently, the USA, Japan, and Europe account for more than 90% of the total market”, he further added.

He also elaborated on the drivers of growth for nutraceutical markets in India. The demand drivers include the Status of Malnutrition in India, Nutrition awareness, Changing lifestyles, increased costs of hospitalization, and FSSAI Food Fortification regulations. The supply factors include strong economic growth, low cost of labor, easy availability of ingredients, and easily available products through e-commerce. He also highlighted the much talked about survey by Mintel.

Which revealed that the demand for vitamin A, C, D, and Zinc supplements have spiked in the past 7 months & a significant shift from buying nutraceutical products from specific health issues such as osteoporosis, arthritis, hypertension to immunity building nutraceuticals can be seen of-lately. “Changing consumer behavior in the country is also transforming the nutraceutical space. The inclusion of exercise, diet, use of over-the-counter medications, and dietary supplements is becoming a way of life & people have become more conscious of their wellness and preventive care.”

Round table conference saw Shri Tapan Kr. Das, TCS, Addl. Director, Food & Civil supplies & consumer affairs, Govt. of Tripura highlighting that “Tripura being a deficit state is dependent on the FCI & other states for the regular supply and productivity of staple food grains. The equipment & resources for food fortification are limited. Yet, due to the efforts of the Govt. In India, we have been able to rule out this cost-effective strategy to combat malnutrition. Starting 1st April 2021 we will start receiving Fortified Food Grains due to the support of the FCI.”

Dr. Devansh Yadav, IAS, Deputy Commissioner- Changing district, Food & Civil Supplies, Govt. of Arunachal Pradesh showcased a project report on the effects of intermittent iron-folic acid on malnutrition among the Anganwadi children in Arunachal Pradesh. Some of the finding shared from this controlled study were :

● Arunachal Pradesh being predominantly a rice-consuming population & the NFHS-4 survey suggests that 74% of the population of children is stunted, 17% wasted, & 20% underweight.

● On comparing the test and control groups the results were seen via the parameters of height, weight & MUAC. The maximum improvement in these parameters was seen in the age group of 3-4 yrs as compared to 5-6 yrs of age group thus concluding that if the fortified food is fed at an earlier age the results are seen early.

● A study was done in Gorakhpur by a colleague also had similar results.

Sachin Jaiswal, IAS, Joint Secretary, Dept. of Agriculture, Govt. of Nagaland stated that “Amongst the smaller states like Nagaland, Tripura & Sikkim which do not have enough rice production as far as the mid-day meals & ICDS schemes are concerned, as a result, these states are dependent on the food grain supply by the FCI. Acceptability of fortified staple food is a challenge of the mindset especially in the lower strata of society. The myth that “Medicines are being fed via staple foods such as rice” needs to be busted through awareness & education. Partnering with the state Govt will prove beneficial in getting the fortified foods implemented in the larger community keeping in mind the basics, food habits, dietary habits, and beliefs.”

Ms. Inoshi Sharma, Director, FSSAI gave a special address on Govt. Policies, their implementation, and challenges faced. “The alarming health situation of India shows that due to unsafe food, unhealthy diets & environmental degradation there is an economic burden of vitamin & mineral deficiencies that is >$12 billion in terms of GDP”. Beyond food fortification, there needs to be an acceptance in the food culture & behavior as to how a balanced diet can be incorporated into our daily lives. For this, the “Eat Right Movement” by FSSAI based on the 3 pillars of Safe, healthy & sustainable food can transform the food ecosystem of the country.

She also highlighted that “FSSAI has also been working on the new and updated standards for strengthening the food testing laboratories & also the front of pack labeling for HFSS foods, elimination of trans fats through limits and standard of fortified foods. Apart from this benchmarking and certification at the vendor level and building capacities via training of the anganwadis at the grass-root level FSSAI aims to deliver education about food fortification for deep penetration in the community.

FFRC or Food Fortification Resource Centre is a dedicated endeavor towards Food fortification awareness and education by FSSAI. FSSAI is also in touch with NAFED & Kendriya Bhandars in Delhi through which fortified rice, the salt will be available at the various outlets and subsequently expanding it to other parts of the country as well, she further added ”.

Ms. Megha Mandke, Sr. Executive, Human Nutrition, Hexagon Nutrition elaborated on the role of micronutrients to combat hidden hunger through Food Fortification. She shared great insights on the current alarming statistics of the NFHS-5 survey and how food fortification is the right solution to fight hidden hunger. She shared that, “Food Fortification which is an aggressive initiative by FSSAI is the fastest, cost-effective & sustainable strategy to reach hundreds of millions with improved intakes of essential micronutrients through food fortification.”

The F+ Logo & Eat right India Campaign by FSSAI along with the innovative IEC materials can prove to be the game-changer as we work towards the eradication of Hidden Hunger in India. She also enlightened us with eye-opening facts that food fortification is an inexpensive way to treat micronutrient deficiencies and that the cost of fortifying Milk, oil, flour, FRK ranges between 5 to 10 paisa per Lt/Kg.”

The technical session saw Ms. Deepti Gulati, Head of Programs, GAIN India, moderating the conversation on staple food Fortification. She also stated that “GAIN, India has been working in NE states especially Meghalaya where circulars have been issued that the oil imported to Meghalaya would be fortified with Vitamin A & D. This is done by supplying the fortified edible oil via Fortified Nutri Shops by collaborating with the tea planters on the ground.”

Highlighting the Udaipur case study & GAIN’s expertise she shared her experiences of fortifying wheat flour at the chakki level also with the locals which improved the anemia levels at a large scale.

On being asked to elaborate on her perspective on Rice Fortification, Ms. Shariqua Yunus, Head of Unit,& program Officer, UN WFP said that “fortified rice, wheat flour, and double fortified salt are the key substances that aim to tackle anemia and micronutrient deficiencies in India because a large population of adolescents and women in reproductive age groups are anemic. Rice is an abundantly distributed staple and is associated with certain processes like milling and polishing which leads to the removal of some of the essential micronutrients, therefore fortification of rice not only allows us to add back the micronutrients but also to add back more in comparison to what is removed making it truly nutritious.

For NE regions, the prevalence of anemia in children and women is 40%, making it a major health problem thereby raising a dire need for food fortification.” She also shared that basis the pilots that have been done in different countries it has been found that if the sample of base rice can be shared in advance with eth FRK suppliers so that the correct match in terms of the right look, feel and specific gravity can be done at the production stage.

Ms. Deepti Gulati, Head of Programs, GAIN India shared her perspective on the need for Oil Fortification In India and precautions that should be taken to do the same. Elaborating on this she said, “Like salt which is consumed by everyone, oil is also a commodity consumed by everyone & fortification of edible oil with Vitamin A & D is very easy to do. In 1953, the Govt. of India made it mandatory to fortify vanaspati with Vitamin A”.

Similarly, As we progressed scientifically and understood that vanaspati has trans fats not so good for health, hence we saw a shift from vanaspati non-hydrogenated fats which are edible oils. Thus, “very soon with the help of FSSAI, we will see a larger population consume Vitamin A & D fortified oil. The base quality of oil should be great while fortifying the oil because only if the FFA is absent & the peroxide value of oil is less than 2, then the only fortification will have its desired impact.”

Mr. Vivek Arora, Sr. Advisor, Tata Trusts spoke on Milk fortification. He shared that “India fortifies 176 lakh liters of milk every day and NE states have not been behind. Under the brand “Purbi” NE states fortify 40K Litres of milk every day. States such as Meghalaya, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh & Sikkim have very low amounts of milk and also not much of the milk gets processed at an organized level but is slowly picking up.

To combat Vitamin A & D deficiencies the right quality of milk should be made available in a sustainable way.” The premix/preblend quality, testing labs, methods adopted are all standardized so that the right quality of the final product is available to the community. Apart from this we also need to ensure that the consumers are aware and they start demanding the fortified food in large numbers.

Moreover, The closing remarks saw Ms. Nirupana Sharma, HOD Agriculture, Food Processing & FMCG, ASSOCHAM thanking all the speakers and participants for this successful webinar.

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