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Transcript: Part II - Food fortification in India

Author: ENN
Year: 2017
Resource type: Other

WATCH THE VIDEO INTERVIEW WITH PAWAN AGARWAL HERE

Dr Pawan Agarwal (PA), CEO of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).

PA: I am Pawan Agarwal, the Chief Executive Officer of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). As Food Authority, we are responsible for ensuring availability of safe and wholesome foods for the citizens. In recent times, we have started work on fortification by setting standards on fortification and by notifying a logo that suggests that a certain food is fortified.

Q1. What is food fortification? Why is it important? 0’38

PA: Food fortification is about mixing various small quantities of micronutrients, including vitamins, in staple foods primarily, but also in all kinds of foods, so that micronutrient deficiencies can be addressed. Food fortification has been used as a scalable and cost effective strategy across the world to address micronutrient deficiencies for decades.

Q2. Can you tell us about the history of food fortification in India? 1’15

PA: Food fortification is not new to India. In fact, way back in 1953, we started with fortification of Vanaspati hydrogenated edible oil with vitamin A and vitamin D. Then, later, in the 1960ies, we started our programme for fortification of salt with iodine. Our iodized salt programme has been extremely successful. Currently, you know, we are targeting 5 staples for fortification. We are talking in terms of fortification of salt with iron in addition to iodine, as is already happening, we are talking of fortification of edible oil, milk, wheat flour, and rice.

Q3. What challenges have you faced around food fortification? 2’11

PA: The main challenge with fortification is around alignment of supply and demand. When we talk to manufacturers and suppliers, they suggest that there is no demand; and when you talk to the consumers, they say that there is no supply of fortified food. To ensure that it happens first and foremost there should be fortified food that is available in the market place. And then the consumers have to be educated that it is fortified and it is good for them. So, alignment of demand and supply is the key element to ensure that our fortification efforts are successful, particularly in the open market, and to large extent, it also applies to government programmes. In government programmes, you have tendering at different levels, and unless there are adequate numbers of suppliers of fortified commodities, those tenders are often not successful. And therefore, there is a reluctance of public authorities to take on fortification efforts.

Q4. How successful have you been in integrating food fortification in other government interventions? 3’30

PA: At the government level, there is a balanced consensus that government programmes – ICDS, Midday Meal Scheme, PDS – are easy targets, and we should ensure supply of fortified food in all these programmes. Now, implementing at the field level, we face a variety of challenges. In case of ICDS, most of the procurement is happening at the local level, often at micro-levels. And, there, unless the authority were doing the procurement, have local supplies of fortified food, by that means fortified food should be available at the local market, so that they can procure it, and this is a major challenge. Unless we can aggregate these requirements and make supply centrally, and ensure that they are then made available at various ICDS centres, we will not have success. And we are trying to look at possibilities of how this can be done at a kitchen level. In some areas where there are big kitchens, where ICDS food is processed and supplied, it is easy do. In other places where small kitchens are there, it will be far more difficult to happen.

Q5. Which states have been leading the way in improving food fortification standards? 4’57

PA: Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and even Uttar Pradesh – these states have taken fortification in a big way in government programmes. And we are finding traction in other states as well now – Goa, Karnataka, West Bengal. So we can see that, across the country, ministries are now looking forward and, you know, looking at possibilities of fortified food in the government programmes.

Q6. How successful have you been in encouraging departments to converge and collaborate? 5’40

PA: The work that has been done over the years by the development partners and the positive media attention that fortification at first as received has already created a consensus amongst government departments that is something that should be pursued. So it has not been very difficult to bring everyone onto the table as far as fortification effort is concerned. And particularly when you talk of taking up these efforts on a principle basis. But when it comes to details, then there are challenges. You know, that is precisely why we have set up the Food Fortification Resource Centre, to look at micro challenges that are faced by various stakeholders, and taking our fortification effort, and then learning from experience of some of the states on how they have been able to address those challenges and let the others states know about it. That way there is a key role that this Food Fortification Resource Centre, established under the FSSAI, that brings all the different stakeholders onto a common platform. These are early days but I must say that the response of the various stakeholders, including the state governments, district administrations, has been extremely positive.

Q7. What is the Food Fortification Resource Centre? 7’18

PA: FFRC is essentially to bring different stakeholders on a common platform. In its governance, we are trying to create a governance structure that brings in different stakeholders, and in its implementation, we are involving the development partners who have already been working on food fortification for decades and also various kinds of skills that stakeholders bring on to the table so that they are sharable across the nation by various people.

Q8. Recently, standards have been released on food fortification. Can you tell us more about this? 8’01

PA: We begin our engagement in fortification by notifying standards on fortified foods. And even before we brought out those tenders, some of the references on fortification existed in different standards for staple. The objective of bringing them all together under one regulation and giving a promotional role to FFSAI to promote fortification, and also to notifying a logo for fortified food became a rallying point for fortification in the country. But, as we move forward, we need to ensure quality assurance and monitor that these staples are fortified as per standards, that there is no misuse of our standards. And, secondly, we have to continue to fine tune our standards, depending on the feedback that we receive from the studies on the impact of fortified food on nutrition for our population. So, these will continue to be our challenges on a long-term basis, beyond 2 or 3 years.

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