Hyderabad: The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) plans to introduce doubly fortified wheat flour and salt.
Such fortified foods are not intended to be consumed by everyone; they are meant only for those who suffer from deficiencies of iron and calcium. Fortified foods are recommended to individuals whose deficiency is not managed by dietary supplementation due to the insufficient absorption of minerals.
The food industry, however, is resisting the FSSAI’s latest move because companies will have to appoint specialised personnel and procure additional raw materials and standardised chemicals for the fortification process. According to an internal audit conducted by FSSAI officials, the response received from the food industry is not encouraging.
Nutritionist Sujatha Stephen says, “Fortification is recommended because medical supplementation has low compliance levels. 50 percent of pregnant women are anaemic and highly deficient in vitamin D, and so the government is keen on fortification.” She says that fortified foods are not meant for people who have a balanced diet consisting of vegetables, whole grains, legumes, green leafy vegetables, lean meat, fish and dairy products. “Fortified foods are only meant for those who have been diagnosed with deficiencies, and whose deficiencies have not been controlled despite supplementation by natural foods.”
Fortification is carried out by adding chemicals to food products. Some nutritionists believe that fortification does not provide any real benefit. A senior nutritionist, on condition of anonymity, says, “Chemicals are used for fortification. It has yet to be studied whether the iron and other minerals are absorbed by the body. These foods have side-effects such as weight gain and an increase in the content of minerals which are already adequate in the diet. It is important to restrict the distribution of fortified foods to only those who have deficiencies.”
At present, there is much confusion, even among government officials, whether double fortification will be implemented or not. A senior official from Telangana says, “Government orders have been issued but it is not clear how they are to be implemented and which categories of food actually require fortification. There is a lot of confusion regarding the people who need fortified foods. Identification will require coordination between healthcare workers and the food industry.”