June 19, 2015

19/06/2015: Grain Fortification: Rice fortification seen as next frontier in grain fortification

by Sarah Zimmerman, Food Fortification initiative

First published in Milling and Grain, April 2015

The familiar FFI initials took on new meaning in 2014 as the Flour Fortification Initiative changed its name to the Food Fortification Initiative. The change was due to FFI adding rice to its work. Since rice is mostly eaten as whole kernels, it was not reflected in FFI’s original name.

“We must find practical solutions for rice fortification because literally billions of people live in countries where health burdens are high and rice is a staple food,” said Scott J Montgomery, FFI Director. 

“Rice is the new frontier in food fortification, and with our partners we are discovering ways to make fortifying it feasible,” he added.

Wheat flour, maize flour, and rice are most commonly fortified with iron and folic acid to prevent anemia caused by iron deficiency and neural tube birth defects caused by insufficient folic acid. These are both significant health problems. Anemia results in reduced productivity, contributes to maternal mortality, and impairs a child’s cognitive development. The most common neural tube defect is spina bifida in which the baby’s spine does not form correctly. It causes some loss of movement or severe paralysis plus varying degrees of loss of bowel and bladder control. While iron deficiency anemia can be cured, spina bifida cannot be cured, and fortification is a successful prevention strategy.

Des Devenport, Mill Manager at
Delite Flour Mill in Solomon Islands,
discusses plans to expand his wheat
milling capacity and include
fortification. The mill plans to be
fortifying by May 2015.
FFI photo by Helena Pachón.
One measure of global progress towards fortifying grains for healthier lives is the number of countries with fortification legislation. Currently 82 countries have mandates requiring fortification of wheat flour, maize flour, and/or rice with at least iron or folic acid. This compares to 44 countries with such legislation in 2002 when FFI began.

Another measure of progress is the percent of industrially milled flour and rice that is fortified globally. In 2014, FFI estimated that 30 percent of industrially milled wheat flour, 48 percent of industrially milled maize flour, and 1 percent of industrially milled rice were fortified.

For these estimates, FFI begins with data about the amount of grain available for human consumption from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). For wheat and maize, FFI then applies a formula with each country’s average extraction rate to estimate the amount of flour available. This is not needed for rice as FAO data represents the milled rice equivalent.

FFI’s focus is on industrially milled grains because that is where fortification is most feasible. FFI assumes that 100 percent of wheat flour is industrially milled, with the exception of countries with a large number of small mills such as India, Nepal, and Pakistan. In contrast, FFI assumes that 0 percent of maize flour and rice is industrially milled unless it has country specific data to indicate otherwise.

Using these formulas, FFI estimates that in 2014 the following amounts of each industrially milled grain were available for human consumption:

  • 290 million metric tons of wheat flour
  • 16 million metric tons of maize flour
  • 222 million tons of rice
FFI then contacts national governments, milling associations, non-governmental organizations and UN agencies to estimate how much of each grain is fortified in their country. Those country responses are then compiled into the global estimate.
In 2004, about 18 percent of the world’s industrially milled wheat flour was fortified. FFI does not have previous estimates of the amount of industrially milled maize flour or rice that was fortified, but FFI will estimate fortification of each of these grains in the future.

As another way to understand if fortification programs are achieving their maximum health benefit, in 2014 FFI asked leaders in countries with fortification legislation about six components of their monitoring programs. The answers and documentation provided will help FFI and partners produce an outline of what should be included in effective monitoring programs.

In 2014 Nicolas Tsikhlakis, Chief Operations Officer and Partner at The Modern Flour Mills and Macaroni Factories in Jordan, requested information from the Food Fortification Initiative because some country leaders were considering removing folic acid from the wheat flour standard. FFI connected Nicolas with experts at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the regional World Health Organization (WHO) office.  With the information provided, the country opted to continue fortifying with folic acid.
Photo by Andrew Gorman for FFI.
In addition, FFI, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) created case studies on the flour fortification monitoring programs in Chile, Indonesia, and South Africa. These showed that the internal monitoring in each country was rigorous, while the other type of monitoring were inconsistent. Differences are expected as not all monitoring components (internal, external, commercial, and import) are needed for every program. But all national fortification programs need at least internal and external monitoring to help ensure success.

FFI’s role is to support national leaders working towards grain fortification. The support provided through multi-sector collaboration includes: 

  • Advocacy resources on the benefits of fortification
  • Technical assistance for planning, implementing, and monitoring sustainable fortification programs
  • Tracking progress at the country and global levels
Such support is often provided through workshops and training meetings, visits with key decision makers in specific countries, and addressing individual requests for information. In 2014, the 13 members of FFI’s staff led or participated in 26 workshops, made 18 country visits, and addressed 47 individual requests for information.

The full FFI report can be accessed HERE

Read the magazine HERE.

The Global Miller
This blog is maintained by The Global Miller staff and is supported by the magazine GFMT
which is published by Perendale Publishers Limited.

For additional daily news from milling around the world: global-milling.com

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