After a series of meetings convened by the FSSAI in the past two months all major wheat flour brands and millers have agreed to fortify wheat with iron, folic acid and Vitamin B-12. Market leaders like ITC, General Mills (Aashirwaad), Hindustan Unilever (Pillsbury), Patanjali, and Cargill (Nature Fresh) have all agreed to fortify their flagship brands similarly in April 2017. In the states of Jammu and Kashmir, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Orissa fortified wheat flour is already available as millers have been fortifying their wheat flour. Others states will be encouraged to do so too since the market leaders have also joined the fortification drive. The process has been initiated by them and the fortified wheat flour would be available pan India by December 2017.
To take the fortification drive forward the FSSAI has been engaging with related industry players and development partners like GAIN, who have been associated with fortification since long. In fact, a meeting with Pawan Agarwal, CEO, FSSAI, and food industry associations proved successful as the Roller Flour Millers Federation of India (RFMFI), Wheat Products Promotion Society (WPPS) and Society of Indian Bakers (SIB) conveyed their commitment to start fortification of wheat flour and other products such as biscuits, breads, rusks and cakes, at the earliest. These bodies would reach out to their members to adopt fortification of wheat flour and other wheat-based products, as an important industry practice. FSSAI guidelines have already been issued for fortified packaged foods like breads, biscuits, rusk and cakes so the food industry will not find it difficult to fortify these packaged products.
Fortification of wheat flour with Iron, Folic Acid and Vitamin B12 offers one of the most feasible and cost-effective strategy to combat anaemia and other micronutrient deficiencies that impact more than 50% of India’s population across geographies and socio-economic classes. India has a fairly high consumption of wheat flour with an average per person consumption of about 200-250 g per day. Hence fortification of this staple food is gaining momentum especially as it is strongly backed by the scientific panel on fortification, medical experts and the academia. FSSAI has laid down standards for fortification of wheat flour with Iron, Folic Acid and Vitamin B-12 and technical issues related to fortification of wheat flour have been addressed. In fact AIBTM has offered to provide all the technical support to the wheat flour milling and bakery industry to initiate fortification of their products.
The government is also fully participating on the fortification endeavours as on 22nd December, 2016 the Department of Food and Public Distribution, Government of India issued guidelines recommending the State/UTs to distribute fortified wheat flour, as per FSSAI standards, through the Public Distribution System. West Bengal has been supplying fortified wheat flour through PDS since 2000. Government of Andaman and Nicobar Islands has a similar scheme while the Government of Rajasthan will initiate the supply of fortified wheat flour through PDS from July 2017 onwards. It seems that most states will also switch over to using fortified foods in the government programmes.
The recently released fortification standards as well as the logo for fortified foods has proved to be a rallying point for food businesses to take up fortification on a large scale. There is a lot of traction amongst the food businesses to undertake fortification of their entire range of food products on a voluntary basis. FSSAI has also established a Food Fortification Resource Centre (FFRC) to facilitate and support food businesses in their fortification efforts.
At the several FSSAI convened meetings, stakeholders agreed to jointly promote ‘Consumer-facing’ awareness, including the promotion of the national logo for fortified foods, which is a symbol of better nutrition. Retailers Association of India will not only promote the fortified foods logo but will provide a separate eye-catching display shelf for fortified food products at their points of sale. Through all these measures it is possible that fortified staple food will soon be available in the open market and iron and micronutrient deficiencies would be wiped out in the population.