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OILS AND FATS

Edible oil industry not in favour of costly mandatory oil fortification
Wednesday, 26 September, 2018, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Ashwani Maindola, New Delhi
A number of companies in the edible oil industry are not in favour of the mandatory fortification of edible oil, which FSSAI, India’s apex food regulator, is advocating, stating it is a challenging task, and puts an additional cost burden on the firms. Moreover, edible oil experts have opined that scientifically, fortification may be unfeasible.

The refined packaged oil industry is at the centre of FSSAI’s food fortification programme, with a little over 47 per cent of the edible oil produced by the top players in the country being fortified. The industry is ready for, and has voluntarily accepted, mandatory edible oil fortification, a fact FSSAI appreciated in a recent statement.

It read, “During the open forum at an event on edible oil fortification, the industry representatives conveyed their readiness for mandatory edible oil fortification. They highlighted that through innovative practices, such as the availability of small-volume pouches, awareness campaigns and state directives, the drive can be further strengthened.”

“The consultation paved the way for a fortified future and ended with all the participating industries assuring their full support to propel and amplify the initiative and help improve the health and well-being of all our citizens,” the statement concluded.

Most leading companies have begun experimenting with fortification. However, the fortification of edible oils is not mandatory right now, and if a company wishes to fortify their oil and/or use the F+ logo, they have to follow the FSSAI guidelines.
 
Akshay Modi, executive director, Modi Naturals Ltd, said, “The industry at large is not fully convinced with fortification. Firstly, its benefits are yet to be proven. Secondly, the vitamin production ecosystem in India is missing and it is in the hands of very few foreign players. The prices have doubled in the last few months alone. This makes it unfavourable to make fortification mandatory.”
 
Besides, loose edible oil is also sold. Umesh Verma, deputy general manager, marketing and communications, P Mark Mustard Oil, said, “Large manufactures in India have already introduced a fortified variant to their kitty including us, which is P Mark Mustard Oil fortified with Vitamins A and D.”

“If the government makes it mandatory, the number of companies will increase to a much higher percentage. However, achieving 100 per cent target in fortification would be challenging task,” he added.

“If we talk about the mustard oil industry, it comprises of several thousand small cottage industries, which may still be not able to equip themselves with the fortification facility,” Verma said.

“The optimism is that since industry has witnessed some degree of success against selling of loose mustard oil by formulating a policy and raising awareness, it may happen in this case too, but it will take time,” he added.

B V Mehta executive director, Solvent Extractors’ Association of India (SEA), stated that SEA was not in favour of mandatory fortification due to scientific bottlenecks and concerns.

He said that in the present Indian scenario in refined edible oil and its blends, many companies had started adding the vitamins in this category on a voluntary basis, but it was to be understood that whether it was just fortification or had therapeutic benefits as well.
 
“In India, over 90 per cent of the oil consumption is used for cooking. Out of this, less than two per cent is used as salad oil, hence in cooking oil - the bio-availability of vitamins would be an issue, while the present requirement of Vitamin A, although restricted to vanaspati and other fats, is not met indigenously. It has to be imported,” he added.
 
“Further, a large percentage of Indians use raw edible oil. This grade of oil goes for further refining or go for consumption or uses. In this category, most of the natural nutrients are available, and thus, this category is acceptable by consumer for taste and nutrition, viz Kacchi Ghani Mustard/Kacchi Ghani coconut, groundnut oil and sesame oil. Since most of the nutrients are available in the natural form, there is no point of adding the vitamins in this category,” stated a note by SEA on the subject.
 
Stated SEA, “Adding vitamins just for the sake of fortification to benefit the masses in terms of health will lead to dependency on imports/foreign suppliers and an extra burden on consumers in terms of cost for no real benefits.”
 
The association’s note on fortification also stated that due to the inadequate testing method of Vitamins A and D, being unstable to heat and light during prolonged storage period (nine-month shelf life), in case of Vanaspati, thousands of Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954, cases were still pending in court due to samples drawn by the authority, failing on vitamins added quantity.

The fortification of edible oils should not become another contentious issue at a later date, and hence, the reproducibility/validation of Vitamins A and D quantification method must be done before going for its implementation even on a voluntary basis.
 
It recommended that studies should be conducted to check the bioavailability of the vitamins added from an Indian context, since relatively higher temperature cooking and frying are the major operations carried out.
 
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