October 27 was not a business-as-usual day for Mother Dairy milk vendors. For over four decades, the milk trucks had been bringing the same homogenised toned milk and refilling the bulk vending machines in the National Capital Region. On that Thursday morning, they were told that the milk was different. The look, taste and price were the same but a poster next to the vending machine explained that the milk was enriched with extra vitamins.
The poster carried a logo ‘+F’ with a ring around the letter, enclosing it in a square box. With this logo, Mother Dairy, the third largest milk producer in India after Amul and Karnataka Co-operative Milk Producer’s Federation, became the first company to sell a fortified staple food in India which adhered to the government standards.
According to the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), that square in the logo represents its completeness, ‘plus’ sign signifies addition of extra nutrition, and the ring around the letter ‘F’ illustrates the ring of good health, protection and an active life. FSSAI is convinced that Mother Dairy, may have become the first company to use the logo but it certainly won’t be the last.
Wheat flour, rice, salt, milk and vegetable oil producers have been enthusiastic since FSSAI released voluntary food fortification standards on October 16. Industry analysts predict that by next year, super markets will be overflowing with fortified staple foods flaunting this logo. But remember, these standards are voluntary, not mandatory. Yet many believe this would bring down the prevalence of ‘hidden hunger’ in the Indian population.
Wait, hidden hunger?
Hidden hunger refers to a body’s need for nutrition even when the stomach is full. Also called micronutrient deficiency. It affects one in three people globally but women and children in India are afflicted much more than the global average. Overall, it is estimated that Indians consume far less micronutrients—vitamin A, D, iron, folic acid and zinc—than required. The food regulator believes, the intake for most micronutrients is less than the recommended dietary allowances and in most cases the gap between consumed and required ranges from 50-70%.
Food companies which have fortified their food products and not passed the cost on to the consumer deserve a pat on their back. However, the story of fortified food in India is not complete without a look into the darker side of fortified processed foods that have fooled the consumer with false claims of its health benefits. The burden of overselling fortified foods is borne by the government as much as the industry.