What is rice fortification announced by PM Modi? How will it work?

What is rice fortification announced by PM Modi

Why In News?

In his Independence Day speech, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the fortification of rice distributed under various government schemes, including the public distribution system (PDS) and midday meals in schools, by 2024.

What is Food Fortification?

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 so as to improve the nutritional quality of food and to provide public health benefit with minimal risk to health”.

In other words, rice fortification is a process of adding micronutrients to regular rice. The micronutrients are added keeping in mind dietary requirements.

Various technologies are available for rice fortification, such as coating and dusting. For rice fortification in India, ‘extrusion’ is considered to be the best technology. This involves the production of fortified rice kernels (FRKs) from a mixture using an extruder machine.

The fortified rice kernels are then blended with regular rice to produce fortified rice.


What are Macro and Micro Nutrients?

The nutrients that your body needs to promote growth, development and regulate bodily processes can be divided into two groups: Macronutrients and Micronutrients.

Macronutrients are the elements in food that you need to grow and function normally. All macronutrients are obtained through the diet as the body can’t produce them on its own.

  • Carbohydrates, protein, and fat are the three main suppliers of nutrition in your diet.

Micronutrients are the nutrients your body needs in smaller amounts, which are commonly referred to as vitamins and minerals.

We need macronutrients to help with energy and we need micronutrients to help our body be healthy and digest those macronutrients


Why is rice fortification needed?

India has very high levels of malnutrition among women and children. 

According to the Food Ministry, every second woman in the country is anaemic 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.
  • Fortification of food is considered to be one of the most suitable methods to combat malnutrition. 
  • Rice is a staple for 65% of India's population and a key component of the government's food security programme

  • 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.

Anemia is a condition in which a person has low levels of red blood cells or concentration hemoglobin, which reduces the capacity of their blood to carry oxygen. The most common causes of anemia are nutritional deficiencies, particularly iron deficiency.

Anemia leads to the economic loss to the nation due to lesser productivity of the population. Furthermore, it will reduce the problem of low birth rate and compromised mental development,


What proportion of fortified rice will be mixed with ordinary rice?

As per the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, 10 gram of fortified rice kernel(frk) should be mixed with 1 KG of regular rice. 

  • The fortified rice will contain iron, folic acid, vitamin B 12, zinc, vitamin A, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin B3 and vitamin B6 in different proportions. 
  • The guidelines issued by the Ministry have also mentioned that the fortified rice kernel should resemble the ordinary rice to the maximum possible limit.


What will be the cost of fortification?

The Ministry estimates that the cost of producing FRK with three micronutrients — iron, folic acid, and vitamin B-12 — will come to around Rs 0.60 per kg. 

  • This cost will be shared by the Centre and the states. The government will pay this cost to rice millers.

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) — the country’s apex food regulator under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare — is working on a proposal to make fortification mandatory for rice in the next three years. This will cost the exchequer an estimated Rs 2,500 crore every fiscal year.

  • Fortified rice will be packed in jute bags with the logo (‘+F’) and the line “Fortified with Iron, Folic Acid, and Vitamin B12” mandatorily printed on the pack.

Has the government distributed fortified rice earlier?

In 2019-20, the Ministry Consumer Affairs to address anaemia and micro-nutrient deficiency in the country, Government of India approved the Centrally Sponsored Pilot Scheme on "Fortification of Rice & its Distribution under Public Distribution System" for a period of 3 years beginning 2019-20 with total budget outlay of Rs 174.64 Cr.

  • 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.
  • According to the Ministry, 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. 

Centrally Sponsored Pilot Scheme on "Fortification of Rice & its Distribution under Public Distribution System"

Has any other country tried this?

  • 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.

Adverse Impacts of Food Fortification

Recently, 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.

Key Points made by the Group:

Inconclusive Evidence:

Evidence supporting fortification is inconclusive and certainly not adequate before major national policies are rolled out.

  • 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.

Hypervitaminosis:

Recent studies published in the medical journal Lancet and in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition which show that both anemia 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.

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.

Cartelization:

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.

Decrease Value of Natural Food:

Dietary diversity was a healthier and more cost-effective way to fight malnutrition. Once iron-fortified rice is sold as the remedy to anemia, 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.


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 the 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 of time.

Wide reach: Since the nutrients are added to widely consumed staple foods, fortification is an excellent way to improve the health of a large section of the population, all at once.


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 increased risk of contracting chronic diseases.

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.

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 and without any scientific logic.

  • 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 2,500 crores annually.

Impact on small industries: Fortification creates an assured market for multinationals. It could threaten the livelihoods of small units across India. Like, in case of rice and oil processing.

No direct link b/w anaemia & iron deficiency: There is no direct link between anaemia and iron deficiency. Anaemia is high among poor children in the rural areas but iron deficiency is more among the urban and rich across the country.


Previous Government Interventions:

FSSAI Regulations:

In October 2016, FSSAI operationalized the Food Safety and Standards (Fortification of Foods) Regulations, 2016 for fortifying staples namely Wheat Flour and Rice (with Iron, Vitamin B12 and Folic Acid), Milk and Edible Oil (with Vitamins A and D) and Double Fortified Salt (with Iodine and Iron) to reduce the high burden of micronutrient malnutrition in India.

Nutritional Strategy:

  • India’s National Nutritional strategy, 2017, had listed food fortification as one of the interventions to address anemia, vitamin A and iodine deficiencies apart from supplementation and dietary diversification.

Milk Fortification Project:

  • The Milk Fortification Project was launched by the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) in collaboration with the World Bank and Tata Trusts, as a pilot project in 2017.


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.

Functions:

  • Framing of regulations to lay down the standards and guidelines of food safety.
  • Granting FSSAI food safety license and certification for food businesses.
  • Laying down procedure and guidelines for laboratories in food businesses.
  • To provide suggestions to the government in framing the policies.
  • To collect data regarding contaminants in foods products, identification of emerging risks and introduction of a rapid alert system.
  • Creating an information network across the country about food safety.


Public Distribution System (PDS)

The PDS is an Indian food Security System established under the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food, and Public Distribution.

PDS evolved as a system of management of scarcity through the distribution of food grains at affordable prices.

PDS is operated under the joint responsibility of the Central and the State Governments.

The Central Government, through the Food Corporation of India (FCI), has assumed the responsibility for procurement, storage, transportation and bulk allocation of food grains to the State Governments.

The operational responsibilities including allocation within the State, identification of eligible families, issue of Ration Cards and supervision of the functioning of FPSs etc., rest with the State Governments.

Under the PDS, presently the commodities namely wheat, rice, sugar and kerosene are being allocated to the States/UTs for distribution.

Some states/UTs also distribute additional items of mass consumption through PDS outlets such as pulses, edible oils, iodized salt, spices, etc.


Mid-Day Meal Scheme

The Midday Meal Scheme is a school meal program in India designed to better the nutritional standing of school-age children nationwide.

It is a wholesome freshly-cooked lunch served to children in government and government-aided schools in India.

It supplies free lunches on working days for children in primary and upper primary classes in government, government-aided, local body and alternate innovative education centres, Madarsa and Maqtabs.

The programme has undergone many changes since its launch in 1995.

The Midday Meal Scheme is covered by the National Food Security Act, 2013.


Reference Articles : IE, TH, ET 

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