FSSAI chief: India has ‘a long way to go’ when it comes to food fortification

By Cheryl Tay

- Last updated on GMT

Wheat flour is one of the staples the FSSAI wants to fortify. ©iStock
Wheat flour is one of the staples the FSSAI wants to fortify. ©iStock

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The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India’s (FSSAI) proposal to introduce more fortified foods to combat malnutrition in the country has not received sufficient industry support with regard to some ingredients.

The FSSAI established a panel earlier this year to help set guidelines for food fortification, and more recently, announced plans to introduce doubly fortified salt and wheat flour for those suffering from calcium and iron deficiencies.

But FSSAI CEO Pawan Kumar Agarwal announced at an Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) conference in New Delhi that progress in some areas had been slow. 

Agarwal told Indian media: "We have received (a) fairly good amount of success in getting the free market availability of fortified oil and milk but in (the) case of wheat flour, rice, and (the) double fortification of salts, the progress has been slow.

He added the FSSAI was working with the food industry to better handle the difficulties of fortifying certain foods.

"We are working with the food industry to persuade them to understand…the challenges they are facing."

Dedicated team

He added that with the backing of Tata Trust, the FSSAI had established the Food Fortification Resource Centre to monitor the progress of the food fortification process: "We have a dedicated team working to promote large-scale fortification of these five staples in the country."

Some industry players are concerned that the new rule will require food companies to hire specialists, and obtain raw ingredients and standardised chemicals for the fortification process, thereby incurring added costs.

They are also wary of the possible regulatory changes that will likely accompany large-scale food fortification.

Overall, Agarwal revealed there has been a 'lukewarm response' from the industry.

He said, "In (the) last one year, we have made significant progress in terms of standards, giving some structure to the space.

"But going around the country, we still feel that (the) whole idea of socialisation of the importance of food fortification amongst key stakeholders in the states is still not complete."

Government orders

The few bright spots have come in the form of individual officers who recognise the importance of fortified staples, especially for India’s poor. 

In Agarwal’s opinion, “Merely issuing orders and notifications from (the) government of India will not suffice”​.

He said state governments often need “hand-holding”​ to warm to the idea of fortification, so they can procure fortified staples through various programmes.

But many state officials are still unclear on the importance and process of fortification, he revealed. 

“Many of these programmes, particularly where you are depending on local initiatives at the state government level, are not easy to implement. They take their own time.”

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