Nutrition International helped turn food fortification regulations into reality in Pakistan
Nutrition International worked closely with industry and government regulatory bodies to realize widespread fortification of edible oil with vitamin A and D in Pakistan. Oil millers and staff from provincial food authorities share their experiences working with Nutrition International.
When asked why his company participated in the Food Fortification Programme (FFP), Muhammad Umer, quality assurance manager at Agro Processors and Atmospheric Gases Pvt Ltd in Karachi, Pakistan, answered simply: “It is addressing the issue of malnutrition in Pakistan.”
The Food Fortification Programme, implemented by Nutrition International and Mott MacDonald and funded with UK aid from the UK government, enabled mills operating in the formal sector in Pakistan to successfully fortify 95% of edible oil with vitamin A and D. These micronutrients are essential for developing healthy immune systems and bone growth, respectively. Women and children are particularly hard hit by vitamin A and D deficiencies according to Pakistan’s 2018 National Nutrition Survey. Additionally, vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of preventable blindness in children and night blindness in pregnant women. Over a five-year period, the programme worked closely with key stakeholders to bridge gaps between regulations, implementation and enforcement to create widespread industry change.
As Nutrition International continues to further food fortification efforts in Pakistan, millers and staff of the public sector food authorities shared their experiences working with the Food Fortification Programme.
Training and quality assurance
The training provided by Nutrition International helped Umer’s mill to improve their process for fortification to make it more consistent. “When we attended the training organized by Nutrition International, the master trainers were available,” he shared. “They provided us with very good knowledge and solutions for these problems. They helped to really improve our existing system.” “We are responsible because we are the ones producing. If the population in Pakistan is not aware of the necessity of a fortified product, we, the producers, we, the manufacturers, are responsible.”
One of the improvements included streamlining the process of adding the vitamin A and D premix solutions to the oil, highlighting the exacting temperature and timing requirements for proper mixing. Umer also emphasized the benefit of using the rapid testing kits provided by FFP to test the quality in house before the product was verified by a third-party lab.
Once results were confirmed, packages of edible oil received the seal of approval − literally. FFP, working with government, created a fortification logo to go on the packaging of all fortified edible oil and ghee products to allow a customer to easily identify which products are fortified. Umer is using it to guide shopping habits in his own family, practicing what he preaches at home. “As a quality assurance manager, I told my wife, whenever you are going to purchase anything from the market, first you see the label and check that it is fortified or not,” Umer shared. “And as edible oil is concerned, you have to check if the FFP logo is present.”
FFP worked closely with all provincial food authorities to streamline regulations and ensure consistency across provinces.
Dr. Seema Ashraf, a public analyst with the Sindh Food Authority, highlighted the support Nutrition International provided in training, awareness, and technical operations as particularly important for medium and small-scale mills who would feel the upfront cost of fortifying more acutely than large-scale mills. “First we faced some reluctance,” she said, “but now all are committed on it.”
As a food safety auditor, Dr. Seema noted the connection between the public health objective, technical regulations and legal specifications is essential for successful food fortification. “Food fortification is very cost effective and powerful as a sustainable strategy to combat micronutrient deficiencies with the potential to reach a large section of the population with minimal cost and efforts,” she shared.
“The programme was very successful,” said Dr. Shazia Yaqub, a public analyst with the Punjab Food Authority. Like her counterpart in Sindh, the authority is responsible for checking if foods are safe and appropriately fortified within the correct range as specified in the food standard.
“The first benefit we received was capacity building,” Dr. Shazia said. FFP provided high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) equipment to measure the amount of vitamin A and D found within products. “They not only provided the instrument, but along with that, they also provided a person trained on using HPLC for this purpose.” This type of targeted support drove capacity building.