Nutrition activists demand withdrawal of fortified rice in Chhattisgarh

Iron-fortified foods are not recommended for sickle cell or anaemia patients and thalassemia patients should not consume them without medical supervision
Last Updated : 22 June 2022, 16:26 IST

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Six months after the central government introduced fortified rice in the PDS system to combat malnutrition, a fact-finding team studying the after-effects in Chhattisgarh has said that the introduction has brought no palpable change, and could, on the contrary, prove to be harmful to those consuming them.

A fact-finding team from the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA-Kisan Swaraj) and the Right To Food Campaign, in their report, have urged the state government to withdraw the provision.

The team, in its report noted that the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India in a guidelines issued in 2018 said that iron-fortified foods are not recommended for sickle cell or anaemia patients and thalassemia patients should not consume them without medical supervision.

Chattisgarh, with a sizable population of tribal communities, has higher incidences of sickle cell disease, as it is found largely among the community.

Two fact-finding teams that went into four districts of Chhattisgarh met with several sickle cell patients, and in one instance they found an 11-year-old thalassemia patient in Kondagaon district’s Mardapal village, where the child was given blood transfusion every month.

“We found that iron overload in the child is such that iron-chelating medication has been administered to him in the recent past, as per the medical reports perused by the team. Even for such patients, iron-fortified rice is being given through the PDS,” the report noted.

The team further noted in their findings that Chhattisgarh had begun distributing fortified rice in Kondagaon district since October 2020, and that the distribution was expanded to all districts after the Modi government announced in April that fortified rice will be given across all public delivery systems.

This includes the Public Distribution System, the Integrated Child Development Scheme, as well as the revamped midday meal scheme PM Poshan will have fortified rice. By March this year, the women and child development ministry said that beneficiaries of the ICDS and PM Poshan schemes, mostly children below the age of six, adolescent girls and pregnant and lactating mothers, have already started receiving fortified rice since September 2021.

The Centre announced that 291 aspirational and high-burden districts will be targeted in the second phase and by March 2024, the remaining districts will be covered.

Chhattisgarh has provisions for 7 kg of rice per person, in several areas they get as much as 10 kg. Apart from rice, jaggery and chickpeas there are some other food items distributed.

“It is also apparent that the risk of such over-dosing is mostly to poor consumers and Adivasi communities, who are not having the capacity to access other non-fortified sources of food and are also covered under multiple schemes by different departments,” the report adds.

While the rice fortification scheme was piloted by the WCD ministry in 2017, concerns about unequal nutrition have been raised by nutritionists. Experts have suggested that fortified rice alone cannot help increase hemoglobin levels; adequate amounts of nutrients like protein, vitamins like B12, folic acid, vitamin C, vitamin A, magnesium, copper, etc, are needed.

Published 22 June 2022, 16:19 IST

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