Political commitment needs for mandatory legislation on the fortification of wheat flour and edible oil/ghee in Pakistan


By,  Laila Rubab Jaskani

Pakistan is facing micronutrient deficiencies challenge, causing the socio and economic losses. National Nutrition Survey, 2011 revealed very high rates of micronutrient deficiencies – 51% of pregnant women are anaemic, 37% iron deficient, 46% deficient in vitamin A, and 69% in vitamin D. The problem repeats itself in children with 62% of under 5s suffering from anaemia and 54% from vitamin A deficiency. Micronutrient malnutrition can be addressed by using low cost and proven interventions such as food fortification.

Food fortification being the most cost effective strategy provides nutritional benefits to the people in need without requiring them to change their eating habits or purchasing patterns.

Internationally, 86 countries have made mandatory fortification of wheat flour and approximately 20 countries made mandatory fortification of edible oil/ghee. In Pakistan, food fortification is central to overcoming these deficiencies through fortifying wheat flour with iron, formic acid, Vitamin B12, Zinc and edible oil/ghee fortifying with Vitamin A and D.

The National Nutrition Survey, 2011 indicates 58% per cent of Pakistan’s total population is facing food insecurity. According to Grain and Feed Annual Report, 2017 wheat flour currently contributes 72 percent of Pakistan’s daily caloric intake with per capita wheat consumption of around 124kg per year, one of the highest in the world.

There are 1082 wheat flour registered mills in Pakistan, which meets the consumption needs about 40 percent of the population.

Similarly, there are 102 registered edible oil/ghee registered mills in Pakistan, the per capita annual consumption of edible oil/ghee is15 Kgs in Pakistan.

There is a potential to reach the micronutrient deficient population through the mandatory fortification of wheat flour and edible oil/ghee, the widely consumed food items in the general populations.

Pakistan has made edible oil fortification with vitamin A and vitamin D mandatory under the Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority (PSQCA) fortification standards.

The national standards committee under the Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority (PSQCA) on the recommendations from Punjab Food Authority’s Scientific Panel approved and notified mandatory fortification of wheat flour in Punjab province.

Wheat flour fortification is mandatory in Punjab province and rest of the provinces is yet to make mandatory fortification of wheat flour. In 2016, Federal Broad of Revenue has granted exemption on import duty of premixes and its sales. This will contribute towards preventing growth stunting (from 5 – 20 to 0%), It is an opportunity to contribute to the reduction of malnutrition, healthier communities and capitalizing on the growing markets for fortified food.

Political commitment is always important for influencing the policy change and longer term sustainability of the policy commitments.

The role of political leadership is key for the development of and accelerating the implementation of the respective policy commitments.

In some cases, the formulation of policy commitments is undertaken by the high level bureaucratic group under the leadership of political leadership in each province of Pakistan.

The manifesto is the declaration of the commitments each political party shows commitments for the wellbeing of the public and prosperous progress of the country.

Through the manifest, political parties declare commitments with the public, after winning the elections and coming in the regime the respective political party translates declaration of commitments into actions through the formulations of public policies and development of five years plan in shape of medium term development frameworks under the lead of Planning Development and Reforms Departments.

Thereby, the manifesto of political parties plays an important role in shaping the future of public and based on that the public can hold accountable to the parliamentarians for the fulfilment of commitments through allocation of development schemes and funds.

Political commitment is required for improving micronutrients deficiencies in people of Pakistan. Therefore, mandatory food fortification for reducing micronutrient malnutrition should be a priority agenda of national importance in the manifestos of the political parties’ country wide.

For implementation, political parties may require to;

  1. Ensure formulation of fortification standards under the by – laws of Food Authorities in each province
  2. Seek parliamentary approval for the mandatory food fortification legislation at the provincial levels
  3. Allocation of development funds for the implementation of legislation
  4. enforcement of regulatory compliance of fortification standards
  5. Ensure internal quality control and quality assurance compliance at the mill level
  6. Equipping laboratories for testing food samples and inspection
  7. Increase awareness of the benefits of taking fortified food and the importance of nutrients rich food intake

It is right time for the political leaders to demonstrate political commitment for improving nutritional status of people of Pakistan especially the pregnant lactating mothers, women of reproductive age and children who are the main victim of micronutrients deficiencies in Pakistan. We can improve nutritional status of people of Pakistan through this simple and cost effective mandatory food fortification strategy.