New Delhi: Edible oils in India are all set to become treasure trove of immunity which has emerged as the most effective protection against COVID19. FSSAI, food regulator, is soon going to make fortification of edible oils with Vitamins A & D mandatory. As increasing number of studies are linking corona virus infectivity to deficiency of these nutrients, this step will go a long way in stemming the tide of raging pandemic.
Given pervading malnutrition in India, especially in rural areas, oils could be a potent means to replenish Vitamin A and D in the large swathe of population. A national webinar on Edible Oil Fortification: from Commitment to Action stressed the urgent need of scaling up edible oil fortification to cope with COVID. In fact, Vitamin D is being seen as potential corona virus treatment.
India has a very high burden of malnutrition, including micronutrient deficiencies. A huge population in our country suffer from deficiency of vitamin A and D. Lack of these vitamins in our body can have adverse impact on morbidity, mortality, productivity and economic growth. Vitamin A and D also strengthen the immune system, which is critical in times of COVID-19 pandemic.
National webinar was jointly hosted by the Food Fortification Resource Centre under the Food Safety Standard Authority of India (FSSAI) in association with GAIN. Several representatives from the Government, Development partners, Academia and Edible oil industry players had participated in this webinar.
Arun Singhal, CEO, FSSAI (Food Safety & Standard Authority of India) announced that fortification of edible oils being made mandatory is in the active consideration of the regulator, saying, ‘FSSAI is considering making it mandatory to fortify edible oil with vitamin A and D, so that people of India can enjoy better immunity with good health. This will ensure that people belonging to different socio-economic strata will have easy access to fortified edible oil across the country’. To facilitate the industry, the Food Fortification Resource Centre (FFRC) within FSSAI will also provide the necessary technical support required to enable fortification of edible oil at the industry level, Mr Singhal further added.
Development sector organisations like GAIN along with FFRC have been working together with oil industry to build their capacities for producing quality assured edible oil fortified with vitamin A and D. At present, 69% (7.94 MMT/annum edible oil) of packaged edible oil sold across pan-India is fortified. Now is the time to scale up the edible oil fortification, across the country, to improve nutrition and health status of Indian population.
TarunVij, Country Director, GAIN (The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition) said, ‘The Government’s mandate for scaling-up the process of edible oil fortification should go hand in hand with building capacities of the industry for producing quality assured edible oil fortified with vitamin A and D”. Citing the example of Rajasthan where fortification of edible oil is being done since 2011, Mr. Vij further highlighted that there is a substantial reduction in the vitamin A deficiency among children (10-19 years) i.e., 1.9% against the national average of 15.6%, CNNS 2018-19.Perhaps, the State wide production and availability of edible oil fortified with vitamin A and vitamin D has positively contributed towards this change.
Talking to Medicare News, Deepti Gulati, Head of Programmes @ GAIN, said, ‘It is indeed very heartening to know that FSSAI is committed to making fortification of edible oil mandatory. Given the enormity of COVID situation boosting of immunity through nutrient fortification, is an excellent option. Our experience in Rajasthan is very fulfilling. Canada is exemplary country, which initiated fortification of fats, oil and margarine, with vitamin A and D, a century ago, leading to healthier population.
In the webinar, discussions were held on the current scenario of edible oil fortification in India and further need for scaling-up the process with sufficient measures for quality assurance and control. Emphasis was also laid on providing the support to edible oil industry for adopting proper processes, building the capacity of premix suppliers to produce quality premixes, and upgrading the State food laboratory ecosystem for proper testing at the large scale.