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03 May 2017 Editorial

 

3 MAY 2017

Powering up food:

fortification is good but needs regulation

Augmenting foods with nutrients can improve overall health, but it must be regulated

Since a diversified diet that meets all nutritional requirements is difficult to provide, fortification of food is relied upon by many countries to prevent malnutrition. The World Health Organisation estimates that deficiency of key micronutrients such as iron, vitamin A and iodine together affects a third of the world’s population; in general, insufficient consumption of vitamins and minerals remains problematic. Viewed against the nutrition challenge India faces, processed foods with standards-based fortification can help advance overall health goals, starting with maternal health. It is imperative, for a start, to make iron-fortified food widely available, since iron deficiency contributes to 20% of maternal deaths and is associated with nearly half of all maternal deaths. The shadow of malnutrition extends to the children that women with anaemia give birth to. They often have low birth weight, are pre-term, and suffer from poor development and lower cognitive abilities. Low intake of vitamins, zinc and folate also causes a variety of health issues, particularly when growing children are deprived. Fortification is a low-cost solution. The benefit is maximised when there is a focus also on adequate intake of oils and fats, which are necessary for the absorption of micronutrients and something poorer households often miss in their diet.

The efficacy of the fortification standards introduced by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) will depend on enforcement. It is important to ensure that all sections of producers meet the norms, since the FSSAI plans to get local flour mills to add premixed nutrients. Making affordable, good quality fortified foods widely available is the key. Only such standardised processes can provide micronutrients to women, and in turn to breastfed children in the first six months after birth. A well-functioning public distribution system is the best channel to reach precisely those sections that need fortified food the most. In the case of children, recent studies show that adding zinc to food during the six months to 12 years growth period reduced the risk of death from infectious diseases and all causes put together. Fortified food, therefore, provides near to medium-term gains, and addresses micronutrient malnutrition concerns at the population level. Yet, as the WHO points out, in the long term, public health goals on prevention and elimination of nutritional deficiencies should aim at encouraging people to adopt a diversified and wholesome diet. Children, including those in school, should get a wholesome cooked meal that is naturally rich, and augmented with vegetables, fruits, dairy and other foods of choice. Fortified foods can help fill the gaps, particularly in areas that are in need of speedy remedial nutrition. It is also vital that food regulation views the issue of affordability as a central concern, because unaffordable fortified food would defeat the very purpose of fortification.

 

Turkish detour

Erdogan's visit highlights the need to refresh ties

Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit highlights the need to refresh bilateral ties

There is usually a heightened exchange of diplomatic niceties between two countries just before a high-level bilateral visit. However, the optics and the statements issued by India and Turkey just ahead of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit were distinctly undiplomatic. Just ahead of his trip to India, his first bilateral visit since 2008 when he was Prime Minister, Mr. Erdogan chose to make comments guaranteed to strike a discordant note in New Delhi. He said the Kashmir issue could be resolved through “multilateral negotiations”, and offered himself as an intermediary with Pakistan. Mr. Erdogan knows the region well, and is aware of India’s consistent position on resolving the Kashmir dispute bilaterally. That his comments came on the heels of his visit to Pakistan last year where he pledged Turkey’s support to the host’s position on Kashmir made them more pointed. New Delhi also made what could well be considered as a provocative gesture by inviting Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades just days before Mr. Erdogan was due, while Vice President Hamid Ansari made a previously unannounced visit to Armenia. The decision on the visits related to two countries that Turkey doesn’t maintain diplomatic ties with was described by India as a “coincidence”.

 

 

Given this backdrop, Mr. Erdogan’s visit did manage to meet the somewhat lowered expectations. His rapport with Narendra Modi is strong, and much bonhomie was on display. Both countries pledged to revive bilateral trade, which has been declining, besides improving air connectivity and increasing tourist arrivals. Mr. Erdogan’s comments on supporting India’s bid for the UN Security Council membership came with the rider on other countries being included, and for the Nuclear Suppliers Group with the caveat of support for Pakistan. But it is certainly a start that could lead to deeper engagement on the two issues. Significantly, while condemning terrorism he mentioned only Naxal violence and did not refer to terrorism emanating from Pakistan. India-Turkey ties date back centuries: Mughal rulers and the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire exchanged diplomatic missions. The poet Rumi and the Sufi movement there found easy synergy with the Bhakti and Sufi movements here. In the 20th century India’s freedom fighters supported the Turkish independence movement. Turkey under Mr. Erdogan has in recent years turned away from the old equation, as he sought to bolster his image as a leader of the Islamic world. It is to New Delhi’s credit that it chose to persist in its diplomacy with this important West Asian country, with the hope that sustained contact will refresh the relationship in a way that reflects shared concerns and is not hyphenated with ties with Pakistan — as India has been able to do with the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

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