New year, new rules: Mandatory fortification for milk and edible oils in Kerala effective January 2019

By Cheryl Tay contact

- Last updated on GMT

According to the FSSAI, mandatory fortification of milk and edible oils is necessary to combat micronutrient deficiencies, especially in vitamins A and D, across all age groups. ©Getty Images
According to the FSSAI, mandatory fortification of milk and edible oils is necessary to combat micronutrient deficiencies, especially in vitamins A and D, across all age groups. ©Getty Images
The FSSAI is going ahead with mandatory fortification of edible oils in Kerala, despite recent strong objections from industry in India.

Under the regulatory body's latest move, milk will also be fortified in the Indian state; these new regulations will take effect on January 1, 2019.

According to the FSSAI, mandatory fortification of milk and edible oils is necessary to combat micronutrient deficiencies, especially in vitamins A and D, across all age groups.

In order to drum up support for and spread awareness of this new rule, the FSSAI and the Geneva-based individual non-profit, Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), recently conducted a workshop on fortification.

Among the participants at the workshop were hundreds of food safety officials, including assistant commissioners and lab analysts from the Kerala Comissionerate of Food Safety (KCFS), which has voiced its support for the FSSAI’s agenda.

Safely fortified

KCFS joint commissioner K. Anil Kumar said this latest development would benefit not just Kerala, but other Indian states as well.

He called fortification "very much necessary" ​because of widespread micronutrient deficiencies in India, but added that urban health centres needed to conduct a "thorough study"​ on the necessity of fortification.

He further stated that beginning January next year, the KCFS would screen fortified food products sold in Kerala by collecting samples and testing them to ensure the claims on the labels were accurate.

The KCFS will collaborate with Tata Trusts to obtain the micronutrients for fortifying milk and edible oils in Kerala. These will be derived solely from vegetables, in order to make sure they were suitable for general consumption; while the exact figures have been debated, statistics from organisations such as the UN and USDA have reported that around 20% to 31 % of India's population is vegetarian.

Already, the Kerala Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation (or MILMA) is on board and set to introduce fortified milk in the state, with the new logo and packaging design currently being finalised.

A MILMA representative said the cooperative's new range would be launched in December and sold at the same price as its existing packet milk products.

Objections and allegations

The FSSAI has been actively pushing for mandatory fortification of staple foods such as rice, flour, salt, milk and edible oils in a bid to alleviate India's longstanding issues with malnutrition, especially among women and children.

However, despite the support of numerous companies, government organisations and NGOs, the regulatory body's efforts have also attracted a fair amount of criticism and scepticism.

In September, Indian civil society organisation Swadeshi Jagaran Manch (SJM) expressed its concerns​ about the FSSAI's true intentions, even writing a letter to PM Narendra Modi in an attempt to prevent it from moving ahead with its fortification plans.

The FSSAI later responded​, assuring the public that all its approved fortification methods and materials had been verified by its scientific panel as safe and efficacious.

Most recently, the regulator faced backlash from companies​ in the edible oil sector, who said making fortification mandatory would be impractical, costly and ineffective, and would put smaller firms in particular at an unfair disadvantage.