Context: The Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA) has called upon the FSSAI to reconsider its planned fortification of edible oil and rice, citing a number of negative outcomes.

More on the news:

  • The FSSAI is considering mandatory fortification of edible oil with Vitamin A and Vitamin D and rice with Vitamin B12, Iron and Folic Acid.
  • There will be a special focus on 112 aspirational districts, according to a recent statement from the Food Ministry.
  • The Food Corporation of India has now been asked to come up with a comprehensive plan to scale up the annual supply of fortified rice from the current 15,000 tonnes to at least 1.3 lakh tonnes.


Concerns raised by ASHA

  • No scientific basis:
    • The primary reason for ASHA disagreeing with the decision was that the benefits of rice fortification are still unproven. 
    • According to a global meta-analysis on fortification of rice with vitamins and minerals, fortification of rice with iron alone or in combination with other micronutrients made little or no difference in the risk of having anaemia.
    • Fortification of rice with iron and other micronutrients such as vitamin A or folic acid made little or no difference in the risk of having vitamin A deficiency.
  • Problems of overdose: There were also health risks associated with fortification. A study at St John’s Medical Institute, Bengaluru had cautioned that food fortification and iron tablet supplementation may expose women to excess iron.
  • Threatening livelihood: Fortification would create an assured market for multinationals, which in turn would threaten the livelihoods of small rice and oil processing units across India.
  • Other: This move would further erode biodiversity, push monocultures and deplete soil health.

Rice Fortification:

  • Fortification is the practice of deliberately increasing the content of an essential micronutrient, i.e. vitamins and minerals (including trace elements) in food, so as to improve the nutritional quality of the food supply and provide a public health benefit with minimal risk to health.
  • Fortifying rice involves grinding broken rice into powder, mixing it with nutrients, and then shaping it into rice-like kernels using an extrusion process. 
  • These fortified kernels are then mixed with normal rice in a 1:100 ratio, and distributed for consumption.

Way ahead

  • ASHA has suggested that instead of fortifying rice and edible oil, the FSSAI could take other steps to meet the nutritional challenge in India.
    • One such option was food grown through Amrut Krishi, an organic farming technique that would lead to an increase in food nutrition.
  • Another solution can be breast feeding with proper latching techniques. It could make critical impacts on nutrition deficiency in the critical first 1,000 days.
  • Kitchen gardens: A study in Maharashtra had shown how vegetables grown in organic kitchen gardens have been found to increase haemoglobin levels.
  • Reform in PDS:  Less processed or unpolished rice can be added in the public distribution system. This would make sure that rice bran, a rich source of various micronutrients reached people.
  • Awareness generation: FSSAI could play a greater role in building awareness about the diverse grains, vegetables, fruits and other crops grown in India.

Source: DTE