Non-GM rice to save millions of lives each year
COMMENT by Soil Association: Fortification of rice is not an adequate solution to problems of malnutrition. This approach has the potential to exacerbate malnutrition and undermine food security because it encourages a diet based on a single industrial staple food rather than upon the reintroduction of the many vitamin-rich food plants with high nutritional value that are cheap and already available. The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that there are already tried-and-tested programmes involving cheap, traditional, and readily available solutions.
Fortified rice to save millions of lives each year
By Peter Foster in Beijing
Daily Telegraph, 14 May 2009
A revolutionary brand of rice fortified with vitamins and iron like a breakfast cereal could help win the global fight against malnutrition, it has been claimed.
The rice, which has undergone trials in a school in China, is one of a raft of new products to be deployed against what world health officials are calling the scourge of "hidden hunger" or micronutrient deficiency.
It is estimated that a lack of basic minerals and vitamins affects 2 billion people worldwide and is responsible for the deaths of a million children under five every year and 50,000 child-bearing women.
NutriRice made by Dutch food supplement giant DSM adds just 5 per cent to the cost of rice and uses patented technologies to ensure that the vitamins and iron are not lost during the washing and cooking process.
The rice is fortified by adding vitamins and minerals to broken down grains which are then reconstituted and mixed with normal rice at the ratio of 1:100.
Cooked rice, which is the staple food of half the world's population, is low in essential vitamins and minerals.
The rice, along with fortified soy sauce and cooking oil, was part of a recently concluded trial at the Dandelion Middle School in Beijing conducted by China's Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
According to preliminary results the trial recorded dramatic falls in anaemia (from 13.7 to 2.5 per cent) and vitamin B1 deficiency (from 24.8 to 4.5 per cent) among the schoolchildren, 'significantly improving' their ability to study.
Martin Bloem, nutrition policy chief at the UN's World Food Programme, said food fortification presented "incredible opportunities" in the fight against "hidden hunger" which he described as "the forgotten" Millennium development goal.
"We were talking about this 20 years ago but their really wasn't the technology to push it through. Now that has changed," he said, speaking on the fringes of a world conference on micronutrient deficiency in Beijing.
Research by the Copenhagen Consensus, a group of eminent economists, estimated that addressing vitamin and iron deficiencies among the world's children was the single best investment in world health, with every £1 spent yielding £17 in reduced health spending and improved economic output.
Mr Bloem added that in a significant shift in the last two years, some of the world's largest food companies were now joining forces with UN agencies and governments as they looked to tap into growing markets in "poor middle classes" of Asia and Africa.
"This is a very new and exciting development, I've been at the World Economic Forum in Davos the past two years and it's clear that major companies see this as a way to combine business ambitions with corporate social responsibility," Mr Bloem said.
As an expression of intent, leading companies, including DSM, Unilever, PepsiCo, Amway and Interflour are expected to make a "public declaration" committing themselves to doing more to help in the fight against hunger.
Professor Al Sommer, the chairman of the Micronutrient Forum who conducted pioneering research into the impacts of vitamin A deficiency on children, said such companies had a vital role to play.
"We welcome the greater involvement of the private sector, not just in creating accessible, affordable and acceptable food products, but also in helping us draw attention to the calamity of this forgotten millennium goal."