ADDIS ABABA – The government of Ethiopia has made fortification of edible oil and wheat flour mandatory, a decision, health officials say, will save millions of lives.
The Ethiopian Standard Council on Thursday approved mandatory fortification for wheat flour and edible oil with a one-year grace period for local producers.
The mandatory fortification will also be applied to all imported edible oil and wheat flour, according to the Ministry of Industry.
“The decision was made taking into consideration the high burden of micronutrient deficiency, available national evidence and international experiences,” said the Ministry.
The Global Nutrition Report 2018 classified Ethiopia as experiencing two forms of malnutrition – anaemia and stunting.
Malnutrition contributes to increased morbidity and mortality, poor learning and productivity at work, and affects the country’s economic development, according to the report.
Minister of Health Dr Lia Tadesse said micronutrient deficiencies are among major public health concerns in Ethiopia.
“There is enough evidence on why we needed food fortification,” she said.
Zinc inadequate intake alone “is more than 90% in young children,” she said, “its deficiency is devastating to the health, growth, development and wellbeing of our population.”
The overall cost of undernutrition on education, productivity, and health is estimated to be 16.5% of Ethiopia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Experts see the latest decision to make food fortification mandatory would help the country address these challenges.
“This is an exciting development and a big step towards addressing the problem of micronutrient deficiency,” said Dr Richard Pendame, Regional Director of Nutrition International, a global nutrition organization based in Ottawa, Canada.
Dr Pendame said the Nutrition agency is committed to back Ethiopia in the operationalization of the mandatory food fortification.
It took at least 10 years for the food fortification standard to get approved.
“The implementation process might not be simple. It needs hard work and commitment which we will make it as usual” said Bekele Mekuria, Deputy Director-General of the Food and Beverage Industry Research and Development Centre.
Officials are urging Ethiopian development partners to provide financial and technical support to the government and private sector to implement the mandatory fortification program.
“As you all know very well, having a compulsory standard is not a guarantee for effective implementation of fortification or bringing impact we aspire to see. Therefore, we all need to have a careful implementation plan and join hands for its successful execution,” said the ministry of Industry.
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