Food fortification to tackle the critical state of nutrition
By Christine Haupt, Global Lead, BASF Food Fortification & Partnerships
The World Food Day on October 16 reminds us to reflect on the global state of food and nutrition and to act on behalf of those who suffer from hunger and to promote healthy diets for all.
According to “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2021”, a report published this year by the World Food Programme, the World Health Organization and other UN agencies1, the state of nutrition in the world is very critical: Healthy diets are unaffordable to many people, especially the poor, in every region of the world. According to the most conservative estimate, more than three billion people in the world cannot afford a healthy diet. Healthy diets are estimated to be five times more expensive than diets that meet only dietary energy needs based on a starchy staple. So even though people might not feel hungry, they can still suffer from what is called "hidden hunger" if they lack the essential nutrients they need. According to this report, this situation is likely to deteriorate further due to the health and socio-economic impacts of COVID-19.
There are different strategies for tackling a lack of micronutrients which should be seen as complementary. There is short-term intervention by supplementation of highly concentrated vitamins and minerals, for example in the form of capsules. There is also a long-term strategy to diversify diets. This is highly dependent on purchasing power and also requires education about healthy diets and behavioral changes in eating habits. This is a very important process and at the same time both cost and time-intensive. And between these two approaches is food fortification. This medium-term strategy is very effective because it does not require any change in eating habits, since vitamins and minerals are added to staple foods such as flour or edible oil which are widely consumed on a daily basis. This is also a more market-based approach, since staple food manufacturers add the nutrients to the food.
Fortifying staple foods with essential vitamins and micronutrients is an important measure to improve micronutrient deficiencies in developing and emerging countries, where malnutrition is considered a severe public health problem. Food fortification increases the content of essential micronutrients in a food to improve its nutritional quality, resulting in a public health benefit. It is a partnership approach with co-investments by private and public sectors. There is also an outstanding cost-benefit ratio: for example, adding vitamin A to edible oils increases the price per bottle by only approximately 0.2%. The low price increase also helps ensure that a larger part of the population can be reached. In addition, the outstanding reach of national fortification programs serve lets them serve the essential needs of millions of consumers.
Reaching all income groups
Food fortification is so convincing because all income groups can be reached if food fortification is mandatory in a given country. People with low incomes are more likely to suffer from malnutrition. Food fortification can reach the large population at the base of the income pyramid. This is the case even in rural areas, where people often refill small empty bottles with fortified oil directly from barrels. Mandatory fortification programs can help ensure everyone has access to such foods.
Creating shared value
Food fortification projects create shared value – from a social perspective, but also from a business perspective. It is a social case and a business case at the same time, since private as well as public stakeholders have a joint interest in improving nutrition. And all partners can contribute with their competencies to make it a success. This shared value creates a wide range of benefits for all partners: The reduction of malnutrition is beneficial for each individual, for the society and its economy. Partnerships create additional synergies and long-term relationships. A company’s determined social effort also creates a purpose and increases the pride of the workforce, with employees identifying with their employer.
In the case of voluntary fortification, fortified products support market differentiation; in the case of mandatory fortification, fortified products are a requirement for market access. Food fortification activities are an important proof-point and a convincing example of corporate social responsibility. This partnership model also creates many opportunities for new market approaches and product innovations to address malnutrition and improve future nutrition.
Investment in the future by supporting the UN SDGs
BASF has been active in Food fortification projects for almost 20 years with projects in 40 countries. The Food Fortification and Partnership program provides technical support, production solutions, quality assurance and quality compliance capacities and promotes partnership building. Food fortification is an investment in the future, effectively supporting the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) “to end hunger and improve nutrition” by 2030 as well as the SDGs "good health and well-being", "reduced inequalities", "decent work and economic growth" and "partnerships for the goals".
1 FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO. 2021. The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2021. Transforming food systems for food security, improved nutrition and affordable healthy diets for all. Rome, FAO.