The emphasis on safe and nutritious food as well as the ultimate goal to ensure an active and healthy life, calls for a broader, though more complex, analyses of people’s diets. It is against this backdrop that Nestle’s vision to reach millions of families with fortified foods and beverages needs to be applauded. Jonathan Eze reports
Micronutrients are nutrients dominantly vitamins and minerals required by humans in order to carry out a vast range of physiological functions. The primary causes of most micronutrient malnutrition are inadequate intakes of micronutrient-rich foods and impaired absorption or utilisation of nutrients in these foods due partly to infection and parasitic infestation, which also increases metabolic, needs for many micronutrients. Poverty is often at the root of micronutrient malnutrition and it is also linked to inadequate access to food, sanitation and safe water and to lack of knowledge about safe food handling and feeding practices.
Micronutrient deficiencies are a major obstacle to socio-economic development in many countries. They have an immense impact on the health of the population (with high social and public costs), learning ability (with a vast loss of human potential) and productivity (with greatly reduced work capacity). These deficiencies contribute to a vicious cycle of malnutrition, underdevelopment and poverty affecting already underprivileged groups. Children are often the victims of malnutrition, which further jeopardises the future of their country. Solving micronutrient malnutrition may therefore be seen as a precondition for rapid and sustainable development. Preventing such malnutrition can make possible redirection of funds previously devoted to curative health care and social welfare needs to other development activities.
The importance of micronutrient fortification is becoming glaring amid report indicating that an estimated two billion people suffer from deficiencies in essential vitamins and minerals like iron, iodine, Vitamin A and Zinc. It will therefore amount to stating the obvious that micronutrient deficiencies disproportionately affect infants, young children and women, preventing them from achieving their full potential in life.
The consequences of this, according to a Nestle in-house journal published to celebrate its 150 years of existence are that it leads to mental impairment, poor health, low productivity, and, in severe cases, death. It added that as a company, it is a responsibility and an opportunity to improve the nutrition status of people at risk by adding relevant micronutrients to food and beverages consumed regularly by vulnerable populations.
In order to achieve this, Nestle Nigeria management under the leadership of Mr. Mauricio Alarcon reiterated the global food company’s determination to add to its products, at least 750 million portions of vegetables, 300 million portions of nutrient- rich grains, pulses and bran, and more nuts and seeds. It added that by 2020, in addition to whole grain already being the number one ingredient in their ready-to-eat breakfast cereals for children, it boasted that all their cereals will be a source of fibre, with as much fibre as possible coming from whole grain.
However, the Corporate Communications and Public Affairs Manager of Nestle Nigeria, Victoria N’dee Uwadoka told THISDAY that in Nigeria alone, it recorded seven million daily servings of Nestlé fortified products in 2015 while over 157 million portions of fortified foods were served to consumers in 2016. According to Uwadoka, “We are aware that the most urgent impact of micronutrient deficiency in our region is anemia so we focused mostly on fortifying our products with iron. Fortified products include: Golden Morn Cereal – iron, Cerelac infant cereals – Iron, Maggi – Iron and iodine
while Pure life has Zinc
According to the Nestle in society journal, the leading food company said that it will continue to adapt their level of fortification to address the nutritional status and deficiencies prevalent in specific markets. “The global popularity and market reach of our Maggi product range give us a solid platform for helping address micronutrient deficiencies at scale.
“Almost 103 billion individual servings of Nestle soups, condiments, seasonings and noodles were fortified in 2016, of which 59 billion were fortified with iron. We also fortify cereals and milk to provide additional nourishment for school age children and expectant mothers”.
The food and beverage company also opined that bio fortification can make crops more nutritious by selecting and breeding plant varieties that are naturally rich in micronutrients and that which can contribute to the nutrient density of diets that are based mostly on staple foods and for those people who may not have access to fortified processed foods. This, no doubt supports its yet another goal towards 2020 to continue to develop the supply chain for biofortified crops and expand its fortified portfolio. Uwadoka submitted that it is working with agricultural research institutes such as the ‘HarvestPlus’ programme.
“For example, in Nigeria, Nestle has worked with IITA to develop vitamin A fortified cassava stems distributed to farmers in its supply chain. It is also working with HarvestPLus to develop fortified grains, cereals and legumes.” Our R and D centre in Abidjan, Cote d’ Ivoire, is also exploring opportunities in biofortified cassava, wheat, rice and maize with partners in Madagascar, Turkey, Brazil and India”.
However, in spite of Nestle ‘s excellent way and methods of contributing its quota to the nation’s well-being, Mr. Brian Thompson of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation, noted that addressing malnutrition in a sustainable way requires a coordinated approach including food and agriculture systems as well as other sectors such as water, health, education, employment and social protection.
According to Thompson, there is need to adopt a nutrition enhancing approach to food systems to address both the immediate as well as the underlying or structural causes of malnutrition. These policies however include having improved diets and raising levels of nutrition as explicit objectives, targeting the most vulnerable and at-risk communities, involving multi-sectors including food and agriculture, health, water, sanitation and hygiene, education, employment and social protection, a multi-disciplinary and multi-stakeholder collaboration with investment from both public and private sectors among others.
Recognising the dire consequences of micronutrients deficiencies on foods and beverages, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) recently said that it remains a huge problem in the country despite its enormous implications for economic growth and human development. To this end, the agency resumed its routine post market surveillance for Vitamin A fortified foods nationwide.
Addressing journalists in Lagos, the Chief Regulating Officer, Food Safety Nutrition Directorate, Mrs. Benedicta Obaseki said NAFDAC’s programme on food fortification was to reduce the prevalence of micro-nutrient deficiency among the most vulnerable and at risk population by 20 per cent. Obaseki, who stated that micronutrient problems are usually hidden and silent, said the 20 per cent can only be achieved through compliance by manufacturers.
She added that one out of four children under age five suffers from Vitamin A deficiency. : “Correlation between suffering, death and malnutrition is real. A child dying as a result of a common childhood illness is a casualty of vitamin A deficiency. “A child that is away from school as a result of poor learning ability is suffering because he lacks iodine. With these facts, it is unimaginable to question or doubt the importance of vitamin A to achieving socio-economic stability of any country.” She further explained that post market surveillance was to ensure that the products they inspected in the factories are of the same quantity of Vitamin A recommended levels of 20,000 International Units, IU. “We want to ascertain the quantity of Vitamin A in the market, so that we will be able to advise them on how to store these products rightly.
“We have gone to their factories to audit their processes to see where the problem is coming from, even the fortification line to see whether they are dosing properly and whether they are buying the right vitamin premix, which they are using to fortify their products.
“We have analysed some products today, some are meeting up but some are not meeting up to standard.” On why some of the products failed the on- the- spot assessment, she explained that handling of the product could also be a major contributor. She announced that the Agency will be ‘mop up’ products that failed the tests “Vitamin A in fortified products depletes when stored under the sun. There is need for traders to store fortified products away from direct sun because sun affects the quality of vitamin A in fortified food products. We are also here to let the public be aware on how to identity fortified food products.
On his part, NAFDAC’s Chief Technologist, Mr. Gregory Omiyi blamed some of the products that failed on exposure to sunlight, stressing the need for traders to learn about good storage practice. “When you expose products to the sunlight, it is a non- conformance to Good Storage Practice, GSP. As a consumer, when you see products that are not well stored, do not buy, because storage condition is our guideline regulation for labelling. “It is very important,” he said, adding some of the Vitamin A fortified products tested include, vegetable oil, salt, sugar and flour, among others.
For the wellbeing of all Nigerians, it is pertinent for industries and brands to emulate the determination and initiatives of Nestle in ensuring adequate fortifications of its micronutrients products.