The Centre will complete rice fortification (with vitamins) in all the districts of the country by the end of the current fiscal, after which the cost of the programme will rise to Rs 2,680 crore annually.

“We are on track to achieve 100 per cent distribution of fortified rice across all rice consuming districts in the country,” said Sanjeev Chopra, Secretary in the Department of Food and Public Distribution. Of 250 lakh tonnes (lt) of rice stock held by the Food Corporation of India, only 12 lt were non-fortified.

Briefing media after a stakeholders’ consultation on fortification, he said the cost of implementation was Rs 267 crore in phase-I and Rs 1,323 crore in phase-II, as the identified districts were to be covered in three phases.

Stressing that the government is committed to ensuring the nutritional security of the country through fortified rice distribution across government food safety net schemes, he said the implementation of the programme has shown encouraging results.

Also read: Centre targets to distribute fortified rice to all ration card holders in 2 years, to cost ₹2,700 crore annually

Chopra also said the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) would be requested to re-consider its guidelines on fortification, which prescribe that every package of food fortified with Iron will carry a statement, “People with Thalassemia may take under medical supervision.”

However, an FSSAI official clarified that the scientific panel of the food standards authority would analyse the recommendation and take an informed decision. Asked about the need to do away with the declaration now, an official said this comes in the backdrop of new findingsl, which were not available at the time the guidelines were framed.

The fortification seminar was divided into four technical sessions, each deliberating on discussions held in prior working group meetings, focussing on key aspects of rice fortification, an official statement said. The panel on the safety aspect for people with Haemoglobinopathies and SCD, headed by Reena Das of the Haematology Department in PGIMER (Chandigarh), has recommended that fortified rice consumption is safe and not toxic.

Experts said iron fortification is effective in the reduction of anaemia and have recommended strategies to improve the quality of fortified rice that is being distributed.

Also read: Strong cereal. FSSAI to develop standards for fortified rice kernels

In his 75th Independence Day address in 2021, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced the government’s resolve to distribute fortified rice through Central schemes by 2024 to address the issue of malnutrition among the poor. Under the first phase, which started in October 2021, fortified rice was supplied through the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) and the Pradhan Mantri Poshan Shakti Nirman-PM POSHAN (erstwhile Mid-Day Meal Scheme). The second phase started on April 1, 2022, in 291 targeted districts, while the third phase started in April this year.

Fortified rice is made in accordance with FSSAI standards, which prescribe blending rice with three micronutrients -- Iron, Folic Acid and Vitamin B12.