Amid controversies, Centre asks states to organise awareness campaigns on fortified rice

Some reports state that iron-fortified rice may do more harm than good to Adivasis or indigenous populations

Amid controversies and health concerns surrounding fortified rice, the Centre has directed states governments to organise awareness campaigns on benefits of the grain blended with micro-nutrients Iron, Folic Acid and Vitamin B12.

Officials said in order to “promote the benefits of fortified rice while elucidating concerns among some sections of the population vulnerable to Thalassemia and Sickle Cell Anaemia,” the Department of Food and Public Distribution (DFPD) has asked states like Gujarat, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Telangana, Rajasthan and Kerala to organise workshops/seminar to sensitise tribal belts and districts with populations vulnerable to the disorders.

“In a workshop organised by the Gujarat government, there was general consensus regarding the positive impact of fortified rice and its significant contribution to the country’s nutritional security strategy,” they said.

To dispel “health risks” in indigenous population due to their consumption, the officials say “benefits of rice fortification far outweigh the harmful effects”.

“Only 0.01% of the population may face health risk due to consumption of fortified rice, particularly those ailing with Thalassemia Major,” they said, quoting experts.

However, there are reports of doctors, health workers and nutritionists sounding warnings that iron-fortified rice may do more harm than good to Adivasis, or indigenous populations, who suffer from the ailments or are genetically prone to them.

“It is irresponsible of the Union Government to thrust the reckless scheme of rice fortification onto state governments,” said Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA) and the Right to Food Campaign.

An NGO had also written to the Odisha government demanding suspension of its distribution and to not go along with the “misadventure being attempted by the union government” following complaints of stomach pain among children in a village in the Bolangir district.

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India define fortification as “deliberately increasing the content of essential micronutrients in a food so as to improve the nutritional quality of food and to provide public health benefit with minimal risk to health”.

“Fortified rice helps in preventing Cretinism, Goiter, IIH (Thyrotoxicosis), brain damage, improvement in foetal and neonatal health and improvement in productivity of population. Therefore, the benefits of rice fortification intervention far outweigh the risks involved,” officials claim.

Aiming to cover 291 districts aspirational and heavy burden districts by March 2023, the Centre plans to distribute fortified rice in a phased manner through all central government schemes by 2024 as also announced by the Prime Minister.  

Date: 13-Sep-2022