While various central government ministries and state governments are eager to use fortified food products in their programs such as mid-day meal schemes, they are facing two major problems currently that are supply side logistics and additional cost burden, said Pawan Kumar Agarwal, chief executive officer, Food Safety & Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), on Thursday.
Fortification means deliberately increasing the content of essential micronutrients such as iron, Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Iodine, etc, in a food product so as to improve its nutritional quality with minimal risk to health.
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With Bill Gates as a special guest, a major meeting on “large-scale food fortification” was held at the FSSAI headquarters in Delhi on Thursday. Secretaries of eight key central ministries and departments – Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Ministry of Women and Child Development, Department of Food and Public Distribution, Ministry of Human Resource Development, Ministry of Food Processing Industries, Department of Biotechnology, Department of Health Research (Indian Council for Medical Research), and Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries – were present in the meeting.
“The eight ministries and departments, and their secretaries, are all enthusiastic about it and want to adopt the fortification standards into their programs. However, most of them are facing two problems: first is supply side logistics and second is the additional costs. Both of these issues are interrelated. It is a chicken and egg situation,” Agarwal said.
On October 16, the FSSAI operationalised draft guidelines on fortification of five products — rice, salt, wheat flour, milk and edible oil. These guidelines, which were put in public domain on September 4 to invite comments and suggestions, set the minimum levels of micronutrients which should be added to these five products in order to be called ‘fortified’. FSSAI will issue the final guidelines soon as the 60-day time period for receiving public comments is already over.
“Different departments (and ministries) have done their own estimates for their own programs. We do not want to dispute those estimates, but their estimates are huge. For example, the estimates of Ministry of Women and Child Development (WCD) to procure fortified rice are huge… Their estimates mean the ballpark figure, which they have calculated and shared with us in a meeting a month ago for programs such as ICDS (Integrated Child Development Services) scheme, were too high according to my sense,” Agarwal said.
Agarwal gave an example of price difference which was observed in fortified salt procurement programme recently in Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu. “When Rajasthan is putting out a tender for fortified salts, they get it for approximately Rs 12. However, Tamil Nadu government got the fortified salt for Rs 7. As you can see there is a huge difference in price due to demand and logistics,” he said.