Future fortified: Global summit calls for universal food fortification to combat ‘hidden hunger’

By Shane STARLING

- Last updated on GMT

African Union: “We have the tools, we need to finish the job started a hundred years ago and make the benefits of this simple and cost effective approach to an improved diet available to all.”
African Union: “We have the tools, we need to finish the job started a hundred years ago and make the benefits of this simple and cost effective approach to an improved diet available to all.”

Related tags Food fortification Nutrition

International governments and health and nutrition stakeholders have backed universal food fortification to combat undernutrition and malnutrition that affects about two billion people worldwide.

The Fortified Futures summit – held last week in Arusha, Tanzania – delivered compelling arguments for fortifying foods as a simple, scalable and inexpensive solution”​ to tackle widespread micronutrient deficiencies that affect 2bn people and account for 11% of the global public health burden.

Grassroots voices were heard from the likes of Indonesia, Egypt, China and Uganda about fortification initiatives that date back to the 1940s with rice, but intensified in recent years. 

“After a decade long investment and food fortification being such a well proven, tested, method – why has it taken us so long to hold this very important conference?”​ asked Dr Chris Elias, president of the Global Development Programme for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The gathering acknowledged that many of the fortification methods had already been implemented in parts of the world, but needed to be scaled up to make a real dent in the world’s hidden hunger problem and micronutrient deficiencies.

“We have the tools…”

Tumusiime-Rhoda-Peace
H.E Tumusiime Rhoda Peace: €110m invested in fortification could benefit 1bn people in 25 countries.

H.E. Tumusiime Rhoda Peace, African Union Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture, stated: “We leave Arusha with a determination to build a new movement, a future fortified with improved food and nutrition security.”

“Preventable deficiencies of critical vitamins and minerals such as Vitamin A, D, iron, iodine, folic acid and zinc contribute to up to 3m child deaths annually."

Give Peace a chance: Fortification facts and figures

  • Iodised salt​: “…as much as $30 (€26.54) in higher medical and non-medical expenditures for every $1 (€0.88) spent [by not iodising]. Today there are salt iodisation programs in approximately 140 countries worldwide, 83 countries have mandated at least one kind of cereal grain fortification, 20 countries edible oils, nine countries sugar, and several others rice, milk, and condiments.”
  • Iron in grains​ can deliver a “…2.4% reduction per annum in anaemia.”
  • Folic acid in flour​. “…prevent over 50,000 debilitating neural tube defects annually”​ in 18 countries in Africa and Asia.
  • €110m​ “to build, improve and sustain fortification in 25 low and middle income countries”​ could cover 1bn people. “Further investment in fortification would trigger significant co-investment by the private sector and motivate national governments to allocate resources.”

“We have the tools, we need to finish the job started a hundred years ago and make the benefits of this simple and cost effective approach to an improved diet available to all.”

The congress featured 450 delegates from 57 countries, including 29 country delegations.

She said productivity losses from undernutrition totalled about  2%-3% of GDP per year.

“The central message of this Summit is that food fortification should become a critical pillar of national food and nutrition security plans. Unless we can rapidly scale up the availability and consumption of fortified foods in countries, the achievement of some Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be impossible. Food fortification is a vital tool to make progress towards the [United Nations] World Health Assembly goal to reduce anaemia among women of reproductive age.”

Peace emphasised that standards and regulations needed to be enforced; more nutrition data was required to guide policy; more transparency was required in delivery and that advocacy efforts needed to be kept up and stepped up.

Stakeholders at the event included the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), the African Union (AU), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), UNICEF, USAID, WFP and WHO, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Food Fortification Initiative (FFI), Helen Keller International (HKI), the Iodine Global Network (formerly ICCIDD GN), the Micronutrient Forum, the Micronutrient Initiative (MI), PATH, Project Healthy Children and Sight and Life.

See a report on the event from the Devex group here:

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