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'Food fortification': India’s way to eliminate malnutrition and hunger

Food fortification has been made the medium to tackle malnutrition in India and similar low or middle-income countries

By Ground report
New Update
food fortification in india

India ranks 101 out of 116 countries in the Global Hunger Index. We are also behind our neighbours Pakistan (92nd), Bangladesh (76th) and Nepal (76th). Earlier in the year 2016, we were in the 97th position. But, since then our ranking has fallen continuously. According to an estimate, we will not be able to achieve 'low hunger' even by the year 2030. According to the Fifth National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5), 90 per cent of children in the age group of 6 to 23 months in India do not get adequate nutrition (diet). These numbers don’t even include the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Way to tackle hunger

Food fortification has been made the medium to tackle malnutrition in India and similar low or middle-income countries. According to the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), “the artificial addition of vitamins and minerals such as iron, zinc, iodine, vitamin-A and D to cereals” is called food fortification. It was started in India in the year 1950 and has been in place since. But, the question is whether blindly following the policy of food fortification will solve the problem.

India is currently delivering wheat, oil and salt in fortified form to the general public. Out of these, the distribution of salt has been the most discussed. It has been very effective in dealing with diseases like the thyroid. In his address from the Red Fort on 15 August 2021, the Prime Minister said that malnutrition is an obstacle to India's progress, so fortified rice will be included in all public food schemes such as mid-day meals or Public Distribution System (PDS) to combat malnutrition. And by the year 2024, it will be delivered to the common people.

Concerns

In the budget for the year 2022-23, Rs 10.13 crore was separately allocated for the fortification of rice. According to statistics, the fortification of rice is putting an additional economic pressure of 2700 crores on the government. But the question is not of financial expenditure.

Ever since the implementation of this initiative, related health concerns have deepened. According to some research, it may not be right to implement a 'uniform solution' to deal with a large and widespread problem like micronutrient deficiency, such as excessive consumption of fortified food. Regular consumption increases the quantity of these nutrients in the body, out of which excess quantity of some elements can give rise to other medical problems. For example, a pregnant woman is already consuming iron and other supplements, so continued consumption of fortified rice can have negative effects on the unborn child.

According to a study conducted in the villages of Uttar Pradesh in the year 2022 (report, page-7), people here are consuming excessive amounts of 4 out of 14 micronutrients (phosphorus, manganese, magnesium, and sodium). Excess intake of phosphorus and manganese is fatal, while excess intake of sodium can cause problems like high blood pressure and brain stroke.

Another report by the Reporter’s collective, claims that the government ignored the failure of their pilot on fortified rice. The three-part report also suggests that the government policies and standards were influenced by external factors.

Conclusion

Fortified food can be a short-term way to combat malnutrition. But in the long run, only food diversity can be the solution to this problem. Increasing iron intake alone is not the only solution as iron alone does not increase haemoglobin. For this, other nutrients like protein, vitamin C, copper and magnesium are also needed in the right quantity. The government has to understand that its absorption is more important than iron intake. For this, it is very important to have animal protein in the diet.

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