What is food fortification and why is it important?

 

Vitamins and minerals (also called micronutrients) are only needed in small amounts, but without them our bodies can’t function properly. For example, vitamin A is necessary for eyesight, immune function and reproduction.

Iron is needed to transfer oxygen from our lungs to our tissues. Iodine is vital for a child’s mental development.

 

The World Health Organization estimates that 2 billion people across the globe are deficient in one or more essential vitamin or mineral.

The effects of hidden hunger can be devastating: impaired brain development, weakened immunity against disease, blindness and even death. Every year, deficiencies in iron, zinc, iodine, and vitamins A, D and B  contribute to the deaths of approximately one million children. Hidden hunger also perpetuates poverty. It costs individuals more than 10% of lifetime earnings, which translates to annual national losses of an estimated US$20-US$30 billion.

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9

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people suffering from micronutrient 

 

However,

deficiencies often show no signs or symptoms – so this form of malnutrition is 

 

frequently called ‘hidden hunger’.

 

Food fortification is the addition of vitamins and minerals to commonly eaten foods to make them more nutritious. It started in the 1920s in Europe and North America with the addition of micronutrients to salt, margarine and milk. In these regions, many conditions associated with micronutrient deficiencies – such as rickets, cretinism and goitre – have been eliminated. In 2008 and 2012, the Copenhagen Consensus (a panel of expert economists) ranked food fortification among the top three international development priorities in terms of cost-benefit ratio.

 

There are three different types of food fortification:

Industrial fortification

Industrial fortification

is the addition of

vitamins and minerals

to commonly eaten foods during processing –

for example breakfast cereals, flour and vegetable oil.

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Nutrient-enriched crops

Nutrient-enriched crops

improve the nutritional quality of food crops through agricultural practices and plant breeding.

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Point-of-use fortification

Point-of-use fortification   is the addition of micronutrient powders   to cooked food just before it’s eaten.

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Read our Food Fortification 101 series to learn more:

Food Fortification Introduction
Point of use fortification
Industrial food fortification
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Why does the EU support food fortification?

The EU believes that nutritious diets should be available and affordable to everyone. It also invests in fair, healthy and environmentally friendly food systems. Food fortification is a useful strategy to improve the diets of vulnerable populations. 

 

The EU is also aligned behind the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The 17 Sustainable Development Goads (SDGs) are a global roadmap for a peaceful and prosperous world, with human wellbeing on a healthy planet at its core.

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Many of the SDGs can be addressed with food fortification. Therefore, the EU supports the scale up of food fortification programmes, and established 2FAS to reinforce this effort.

SDG 1 No poverty: Childhood anaemia is associated with a 2.5% drop in wages in adulthood, affecting economic growth.

SDG 2 Zero hunger: Fortification is one of the most effective interventions to prevent nutritional deficiencies.

SDG 3 Good health and wellbeing: Anaemia during pregnancy increases the risk of maternal and perinatal mortality.

SDG 4 Quality education: Iron deficiency causes cognitive deficits and developmental delays.

SDG 5 Gender equality: Anaemia is much more prevalent among women. Fortifying with iron boosts females’ relative  academic performance and worker productivity.

SDG 8 Decent work and economic growth: Low- and middle-income countries lose between 2% and 5% of their gross domestic product to micronutrient malnutrition. Reducing this cost could help bring communities out of poverty.

SDG 17 Partnerships for the goals:  Successful fortification programmes require multiple partnerships across both private and public sectors.

Download our brochure to learn more about 2FAS and the EU:
 

2FAS brochure

Frequently asked questions

Are fortified foods artificial? Isn’t it better just to eat a balanced diet? Can you consume too many vitamins and minerals?

We answer some of the most frequent questions about food fortification in our FAQs:

Food Fortification FAQ

Useful links

There are many other actors working in food fortification. Their websites are useful sources of further information:

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation www.gatesfoundation.org

CDC/IMMPaCt www.cdc.gov/nutrition/micronutrient-malnutrition

Food Fortification Initiative (FFI) www.ffinetwork.org

HarvestPlus www.harvestplus.org

Home Fortification Technical Advisory Group  www.hftag.org

International Federation for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus (IF) www.ifglobal.org

International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) www.ifpri.org

International Potato Center (CIP) www.cipotato.org/programs/sweetpotato-agri-food-systems-program

Iodine Global Network www.ign.org

Micronutrient Forum  www.micronutrientforum.org

Nutrition International  www.nutritionintl.org

Smarter Futures www.smarterfutures.net

UNICEF www.unicef.org/nutrition

The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) www.gainhealth.org
World Food Programme www.wfp.org/nutrition
World Health Organization  www.who.int/health-topics/nutrition