Micronutrients are essential vitamins and minerals that people need to develop and maintain good health. While the best way to prevent micronutrient deficiencies is to maintain a diverse and healthy diet, nutritious foods are not always accessible or affordable to all, particularly most vulnerable groups. In fact, more than two billion people globally suffer from deficiencies of micronutrients such as iron, iodine, folic acid and vitamin A, causing serious health and economic impacts.
Our campaign takes a closer look at a complementary solution: food fortification – the addition of micronutrients to foods to correct or prevent deficiencies and improve public health. An intervention available to the food industry that could save millions of lives if done well, poor governmental oversight often results in a majority of food products not being adequately fortified even where national legislation exists. Furthermore, media reports highlight how some players in the food industry purposefully under-fortify foods to gain commercial advantage over their competitors.
Micronutrient deficiencies in Mexico: Ironing out the kinks
This briefing looks further into the issue of flour fortification in Mexico, specifically at whether flour companies are following the recommendations on the most effective iron sources that are set out in the Mexican legislation and by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Fortifying flours with the correct type and quantity of iron compounds can have a significant impact on the effectiveness of the fortification programme in improving people’s health and alleviating nutritional anaemia. Only four out of 12 brands of nixtamilised maize flours analysed for this research were found to be using the recommended type of iron to fortify their products. The brands that were not using the recommended iron compounds include major brands in Mexico such as Maseca, Hari Masa, Maizza and many supermarket’s own brands such as Walmart’s Aurrerá. In contrast, wheat flour brands were mostly found to be using the recommended sources in their white flour products but not in their wholegrain varieties. The report concludes with a number of recommendations to the Mexican government, flour-milling industry and retailers to remediate this situation and play their part in helping to tackle this public health crisis.
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Sorting the Wheat from the Chaff: Food Fortification in Mexico
In this report, we delve deeper into the issue of food fortification in Mexico, a country with a double burden of malnutrition. While Mexico has one of the highest obesity rates in the world, certain micronutrient deficiencies, particularly iron deficiency, continue to be a public health concern. For this reason, the Mexican government put in place legislation on the mandatory fortification of both wheat and maize flour in the early 2000s. However, the available government data show a variable level of compliance amongst the flour industry, including a particularly concerning drop in compliance in the fortification of maize flour with folic acid, casting doubts on the flour-milling and food-processing industries’ actions to provide Mexican people with sufficiently fortified flours, tortillas and breads to help tackle micronutrient deficiencies. The report concludes by making a series of recommendations to all players involved, with a special emphasis on the need for strengthening the enforcement regime.
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