NEW DELHI: In a step towards universal food fortification to combat malnutrition, the government is planning to make the process mandatory for all staple food items like rice, wheat flour, edible oils and milk sold in the open market.
Representatives from the ministries of women & child development, food & civil supplies, and health met on Friday to discuss a proposal on food fortification and how it can be expanded to cover not merely children but also pregnant women, lactating mothers and adolescents.
Senior industry executives were also part of the discussions. Sources said all the stakeholders agreed that a regulatory framework should be in place to implement this provision.
The government has decided to form a task force under the National Institute of Nutrition to formulate detailed guidelines, sources said. “Once fortification is made mandatory, industry will have to follow the guidelines,” the sources said.
The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India has already formulated standards for flour fortification. Food products like wheat and rice are already being fortified in some states like Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka.
The cost of fortification will be between 5 and 20 paise per kg or litre of food items, an official said, adding that the mandatory roll out of fortified food items may take 6-8 months.
The government estimates show the intake of micronutrients in daily diet is far from satisfactory and over 70% of the Indian population consumes less than 50% of the recommended dietary allowances or the average daily level of intake sufficient to meet the nutrient requirements of healthy people.
Experts say apart from human suffering due to morbidity and mortality, malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies have a high economic cost.
Productivity losses due to poor nutrition are estimated to be more than 10% of lifetime earnings for individuals, and 2-3% of GDP to the nation. Cost of treating malnutrition is 27 times more than the investment required for its prevention.