A group of scientists and activists have warned the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) of the adverse impacts of Food Fortification on health and livelihoods.
- It is a pushback against the Centre’s plan to mandatorily fortify rice and edible oils with vitamins and minerals.
- In order to fight chronic anaemia and undernutrition, the government is making plans to distribute fortified rice through the Integrated Child Development Services and Mid Day Meal Schemes across the country from the year 2021, with special focus on Aspirational districts.
- Many of the studies which FSSAI relies on to promote fortification are sponsored by food companies who would benefit from it, leading to conflicts of interest.
- Recent studies published in the medical journal Lancet and in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition which show that both anaemia and Vitamin A deficiencies are overdiagnosed, meaning that mandatory fortification could lead to hypervitaminosis.
- Hypervitaminosis is a condition of abnormally high storage levels of vitamins, which can lead to various symptoms such as over excitement, irritability, or even toxicity.
- One major problem with chemical fortification of foods is that nutrients don’t work in isolation but need each other for optimal absorption. Undernourishment in India is caused by monotonous cereal-based diets with low consumption of vegetables and animal protein.
- Adding one or two synthetic chemical vitamins and minerals will not solve the larger problem, and in undernourished populations can lead to toxicity.
- A 2010 study that showed iron fortification causing gut inflammation and pathogenic gut microbiota profile in undernourished children.
- Mandatory fortification would harm the vast informal economy of Indian farmers and food processors including local oil and rice mills, and instead benefit a small group of multinational corporations who will have sway over a Rs.3,000 crore market.
- Just five corporations have derived most of the benefits of global fortification trends and these companies have historically engaged in cartelising behaviour leading to price hikes.
- The European Union has been forced to fine these companies for such behaviour.
- Dietary diversity was a healthier and more cost-effective way to fight malnutrition. Once iron-fortified rice is sold as the remedy to anaemia, the value and the choice of naturally iron-rich foods like millets, varieties of green leafy vegetables, flesh foods, liver, to name a few, will have been suppressed by a policy of silence.
About Food Fortification:
- According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), food fortification is defined as the practice of deliberately increasing the content of essential micronutrients so as to improve the nutritional quality of the food supply and to provide a public health benefit with minimal risk to health.
- It can be noted that biofortification differs from conventional food fortification in that biofortification aims to increase nutrient levels in crops during plant growth rather than through manual means during processing of the crops.
About Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI):
- FSSAI is an autonomous statutory body established under the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 (FSS Act).
- It has its headquarter in Delhi and its administrative Ministry is Ministry of Health & Family Welfare.