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What is Rice Fortification? Can fortified food fight hunger and malnutrition?

What is Rice Fortification? Can fortified food fight hunger and malnutrition?

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  • GS 2 || Governance & Social Justice || Human Development || Hunger & Famines

Why in the news?

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced the fortification of rice distributed under various government schemes, including the Public Distribution System (PDS) and mid-day meals in schools, by 2024.

What is rice fortification?

  • The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) defines fortification as “deliberately increasing the content of essential micronutrients in a food to improve the nutritional quality of food and to provide public health benefit with minimal health risk”.
  • In other words, rice fortification is a process of adding micronutrients to regular rice. 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.

Fortification in India

  • The Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food, and Public Distribution is the nodal agency For rice fortification.
  • Currently, the government is promoting fortification in the following 5 food items-Rice, salt, edible oil, milk, and wheat.
    • 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
    • Wheat: The decision on fortification of wheat was announced in 2018 and is being implemented in 12 states under India’s flagship PoshanAbhiyaanto 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.

Need for rice fortification

  • India has very high levels of malnutrition among women and children. According to the Food Ministry, every second woman in the country is anemic and every third child is stunted. India ranks 94 out of 107 countries on the Global Hunger Index (GHI), which puts it in the ‘serious hunger’ category.
  • According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4)
    • 58.4% of children (6-59 months) are anemic
    • 53.1% of women in the reproductive age group are anemic
    • 35.7% of children under 5 are underweight
  • Also, it is estimated that 50-70% of these birth defects are preventable. One of the major causes is a deficiency of Folic Acid.
  • Thus, fortification is necessary to address the 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 a considerable loss of nutrients during the processing of food.
  • One of the strategies to address this problem is the fortification of food. This method complements other ways to improve nutrition such as diversification of diet and supplementation of food.

Significance

  • The announcement is significant as the country has high levels of malnutrition among women and children.
  • According to the Food Ministry, every second woman in the country is anemic and every third child is stunted. 
    • India ranks 94 out of 107 countries and is in the ‘serious hunger’ category on the Global Hunger Index (GHI).
  • Malnutrition and lack of essential nutrients in poor women and poor children poses major obstacles to their development.
  • The government distributes over 300 lakh tonnes of rice under various schemes covered under the National Food Security Act, 2013. For 2021-22, the Centre has allocated 328 lakh tonnes of rice under NFSA for schemes such as the Targeted PDS, MDM, and Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS).
  • Fortification of food is considered to be one of the most suitable methods to combat malnutrition. Rice is one of India’s staple foods, consumed by about two-thirds of the population.
    • Per capita, rice consumption in India is 6.8 kg per month. Therefore, fortifying rice with micronutrients is an option to supplement the diet of the poor.

Other 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 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.
  • 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.

Steps taken by the Government

  • Fortification of Rice and it’s Distribution-In 2019-20, a centrally sponsored pilot scheme, ‘Fortification of Rice and its Distribution under PDS’, for three years with a total budget outlay of Rs 174.64 crore. The pilot scheme focuses on 15 districts in 15 states — Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Odisha, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Punjab, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, and Madhya Pradesh.
  • Six states, including Maharashtra and Gujarat, have started distributing fortified rice as part of the pilot scheme, with approximately 2.03 lakh tonnes distributed until June 2021. Four more states are expected to start by September.
  • According to the Ministry, nearly 2,690 rice mills have installed blending units for the production of fortified rice, and the current blending capacity stands at 13.67 lakh tonnes in 14 key states.

Other countries

  • According to the Ministry, seven countries have mandated rice fortification — the United States, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, and the Solomon Islands.

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 an increased risk of contracting chronic diseases.
  • Mandatory fortification will create markets that will be hard to withdraw when we have achieved the target of reduced micronutrient deficiency.
  • High cost: The fortification expenditure of only the rice delivered through the social safety networks will cost the public exchequer about Rs 2,600 crores annually.
  • 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.
  • No direct link b/w anemia & iron deficiency: There is no direct link between anemia and iron deficiency. Anemia is high among poor children in rural areas but iron deficiency is more among the urban and rich across the country.
  • Market-driven solution: The researchers are worried that the push towards fortification is more to help the industry than the people and is an international market-driven solution without any scientific logic.
  • Impact on small industries: Fortification creates an assured market for multinationals. It could threaten the livelihoods of small units across India. Like, in the case of rice and oil processing.

Way forward

  • A diverse and quality diet is more helpful: Instead of fortification, the quality of diet should be improved. Increasing the intake of foods from animal sources and fruits would be more helpful. National Institute of Nutrition, too, recommended that a diverse natural diet is required to meet the normal population need of micronutrients in its Nutrient Requirements of Indians released 2020.
  • Food can be grown through AmrutKrishi, an organic farming technique that would lead to an increase in food nutrition.
  • Another solution is breastfeeding with proper latching techniques. It could make a critical impact on nutrition deficiency in the critical first 1,000 days.
  • Kitchen gardens: A study in Maharashtra has shown that vegetables grown in organic kitchen gardens increase hemoglobin levels.
  • Include less processed or unpolished rice in the public distribution system. This would make sure that rice bran, a rich source of various micronutrients reached people.

Mains model Question

  • Discuss how focusing public policy on biofortification, sanitation, and women’s education can help India overcome its malnutrition problem.

References