Manufacturers of fortified foods such as flour, oil, milk and salt will need a certificate from a government laboratory authenticating the nutrient content printed on labels of their products, a new rule says.
The move opens the door for introduction of fortified food in government-run schemes such as the mid-day meal in schools and the public distribution system. Also, it is viewed as an attempt to improve nutrition levels in food items in a country saddled with about a quarter of the world’s malnourished population.
The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) issued on Monday a new guideline that sets standards for fortification of food products with vitamin, iodine, folic acid and other nutrients across all items, stipulating minimum and maximum levels.
The new rule says every manufacturer and packer will have to give an “undertaking” on quality assurance and “submit evidence” of the steps taken, including getting the test done of the product from an approved government laboratory.
The new norms will be applicable to all fortified foods and the Fssai will push for “wholesome” consumption in cooperation with government departments.
But civil society organisations such as the Right to Food campaign and Supreme Court-appointed food commissioners have opposed introduction of fortified food packets in place of fresh cooked meals in schools and anganwadis — a programme to combat child hunger and malnutrition and provide basic healthcare in villages.
They said the rule will do more harm than good while increasing profits of big food manufacturers.
“It is a clear attempt by government to override Supreme Court guidelines against use of fortified food in government programmes in place of hot cooked meals,” said Harsh Mander, a top court-appointed food commissioner.
“This is part of the government’s agenda to promote corporate lobby which sees huge business in government-run food schemes.”
A health ministry functionary allayed fears, saying the new norms will ensure supply of quality fortified food through government-run schemes aimed at checking malnutrition.
Several BJP-ruled states such as Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh have introduced packaged fortified food in schools and anganwadis. Opposition parties have alleged that contracts for such food have gone to people close to the ruling party.
Pawan Agarwal, chief executive officer of FSSAI, had earlier said the rules will initially cover wheat flour, rice, oil and milk while all food items would be gradually brought under the ambit of a comprehensive regulation.
“Many companies have been promoting fortified daily food items such as wheat flour, milk products and rice without any quality assurance to consumers. We are introducing a mechanism to ensure that they deliver on their promise,” another Fssai official said.
Also, the FSSAI had said the new rule would supersede all previous regulations regarding fortification of foods and special dietary uses except those in the law on infant milk and food items.
“Yes, the rule will override previous provisions by any government department,” a FSSAI official said.