Industrial fortification has played a significant role in addressing malnutrition and related diseases, especially in developing countries. The history of industrial fortification as part of the food processing activities can be traced back to the 1960’s when central and Latin American countries started fortifying processed foods with Iron.
Industrial fortification has experienced some measures of success, but the effect has not been felt, especially in the poor and marginal societies within the developing world, especially Sub-Saharan Africa.
One of the challenges has been accessibility and affordability of fortified foods. Most resource poor communities cannot afford to pay the relatively high prices for processed foods and often prefer their unprocessed traditional foods. Also, these communities are often located in remote and marginal areas where transportation costs and weak demand make it uneconomically viable for traders to supply the processed, nutrition-enriched foods.
A study of wheat flour fortification with Iron in Guatemala revealed that despite anaemia rates decreasing during the study period, it was unlikely that the fortification program made that impact as consumption of wheat flour is not high enough especially amongst women from the poor, rural and indigenous households.
The study also revealed that the forms of iron used to fortify such as ferrous fumarate could not be easily absorbed into the body from the digestive tract. Similar results occurred in South African, where the government launched a national food fortification programme in 2003. Over 90% of wheat flour and 70% of maize is fortified, but malnutrition is still rife with one in five children stunted and one in ten underweight.
Another challenge is long-term retention especially of vitamins. The nutrients are relatively stable when the product is within its packaging material but tend to rapidly break down when packaging is removed and the product is exposed to the environment. Breakdown of nutrient molecules due to heat treatment during processing or settling during transportation are other major challenges. Also, at times, the nutrients are not evenly distributed within the food stuffs so consumption of part of the foodstuff does not guarantee sufficient nutritional intake.
Wheat Flour Fortification Is Unlikely to Benefit the Neediest in Guatemala. Beth Imhoff-Kunsch et. al. The Journal of Nutrition. (Apr 2007) . http://jn.nutrition.org/cgi/content/full/137/4/1017
Policymakers mull strategies to stem malnutrition. Faranaaz Parker, Mail & Guardian Newspaper, April 2nd 2010. http://www.mg.co.za/article/2010-04-02-policy-makers-mull-strategies-to-stem-malnutrition