Science & Tech

The Fortified Rice Debate

The Union Food Ministry disputed the Opposition’s charges about the distribution of Fortified Rice through fair price stores.

What exactly is Fortified Rice?

  • The practise of fortifying normal rice with critical elements to alleviate nutritional deficits in populations who rely primarily on rice as a staple food is referred to as fortification.
  • These additional nutrients are intended to boost rice’s nutritional value and fight specific deficits found in certain regions or demographic groups.
  • The rice grains are fortified by covering them with a nutrient-rich powder or premix.
  • The nutrients added to fortified rice vary, but generally include:
  • Iron: Iron is frequently added to reinforced rice to alleviate iron deficiency anaemia, a global nutritional concern.
  • Vitamins: To treat specific vitamin deficiencies in target populations, essential vitamins such as vitamin A, vitamin B-complex (containing thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, and folic acid), and vitamin D may be incorporated in fortified rice.
  • Minerals: Other minerals, such as zinc, calcium, and iodine, may be included into fortified rice, based on the target population’s specific nutritional needs and inadequacies.

Fortification is required

  • According to the National Family Health Survey 2019-21, 57% of women in the reproductive age range (15-49) are iron deficient.
  • Furthermore, studies have indicated that around one-fifth of youngsters (0-5 years) who do not have access to a nutritious and diverse diet are vitamin-A deficient.
  • Vitamin D insufficiency is known as a silent epidemic.

Benefits provided

  • Health: Fortified staple foods will have natural or near-natural levels of micronutrients, whereas supplements may not have.
  • Taste: It offers nutrients without altering the properties of food or the sequence of our meals.
  • Nutrition: Fortified foods, when ingested on a regular and frequent basis, will sustain body stores of nutrients more efficiently and effectively than sporadic supplementation.
  • Economical: The overall costs of fortification are quite modest; the price increase is just about 1 to 2 percent of the whole food value.
  • Society: It defends everyone’s right to safe and nutritious food, which is consistent with the right to adequate food and everyone’s fundamental right to be free from hunger.

Concerns about fortified foods

  • Nature’s packing is thrown off by fortification and enrichment. When compared to naturally occurring nutrients, our bodies do not absorb individual nutrients added to processed foods as efficiently.
  • Bioavailability: Food supplements are less bioavailable. The proportion of a nutrient that your body can absorb and use is referred to as bioavailability.
  • Immune deficiencies: They are deficient in immune-boosting chemicals.
  • Overnutrition: For patients using prescription medications, fortified meals and supplements can bring unique hazards such as impaired absorption of other micronutrients, treatment failure, and increased mortality risk.

Possible health risk

  • Thalassemia, sickle cell anaemia, and malaria are disorders in which the body already has an excess of iron, whereas TB patients are unable to absorb iron.
  • Consumption of iron-fortified meals by individuals with certain disorders can impair immunity and organ functionality.

Justification for Fortified Rice by the Ministry

  • The Ministry highlighted several studies to back up its claim that eating enriched rice leads to a considerable increase in haemoglobin levels and a decrease in the prevalence of anaemia.
  • Since 1958, seven nations, including the United States, have embraced rice fortification, demonstrating its usefulness as a public health intervention.
  • An ongoing review is being carried out by NITI Aayog in conjunction with the Indian Council of Medical Research to analyse the impact and effectiveness of fortified rice.
  • To acquire complete data and insights, evaluation studies concentrating on pilot districts are under underway.

Way Forward

  • Collaborative efforts should be prioritised between the Ministry, NITI Aayog, and other relevant institutions to conduct a complete and independent evaluation of the fortified rice programme.
  • Transparent sharing of evaluation results and findings is essential for building trust and addressing any potential flaws or areas for development.
  • Incorporating input and recommendations from stakeholders will be beneficial in improving the program’s execution and impact.
  • Continuous monitoring and evaluation of the program’s effectiveness should be prioritised, allowing for rapid modifications and enhancements.
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