A united front

Immediately following the three-day AOM Middle East-East Africa District Conference, about 70 people took part in an all day "policy planning forum" to explore the launch of the joint public and private initiative of Universal Flour Fortification. The event’s key organizer, Glen Maberly, public health professor at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., said this forum was really the formal launch of the flour fortification movement and particularly its effort to enlist private industry’s support.

Through numerous speeches and presentations, specialists from the milling sector, the World Health Organization, United Nation’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) pointed to the addition of iron, folic acid and vitamins to flour as one of the most cost effective ways to improve human health.

The goal of UFF is to ensure that each country has its own standard for vitamins and minerals to be added to flour.

The drive to reduce malnutrition on a global basis began in 1990 at the World Summit for Children. The aim to reduce iodine deficiency led to the Universal Salt Iodization (USI) movement, which has brought about a significant reduction in iodine deficiency, with sustainable elimination slated by 2005. In May 2002, more than 70 nations gathered under the U.N. and committed to reduce iron deficiency by one-third by 2010, while also accelerating progress to eliminate other micronutrient deficiencies. The flour fortification effort is just one front in this battle against malnutrition.

One of the first goals for these organizations is to gain support from private industry — millers themselves.

Joseph Judd, Director of UNICEF’s Programs Division, said that after USI, "we better understand the key roles producers play." Judd added that the U.N. Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, is promoting these partnerships and that "the UFF is the kind of initiative that he will advocate with milling industry leaders."

Even prior to salt iodization, William Dietz of the CDC pointed out, there is a precedent of fortifying food to eradicate disease; adding Vitamin D to milk in the 1950s, for instance, brought about the eradication of rickets in the U.S. North American milling industries have been fortifying flour voluntarily for several decades. In fact, 30 countries have already mandated some form of minimal enrichment to all flour. Venkatesh Mannar, president of the Ottawa, Canada-based Micronutrient Initiative organization, said additional programs are being launched in many other countries. Large flour mills everywhere, he encouraged, should adopt minimal flour fortification for "good milling practice" as the costs are low and benefits high for the "common good."

Indonesia, which mandated flour fortification in February 2002, was recognized as a recent success. There, the program’s total annual cost is U.S.$4 million for a population of 210 million. A highly modern and consolidated flour milling sector was credited for adopting the new practice. In addition, millers from Les Moulins de la Concorde, Mauritius, and National Flour Mills, U.A.E., spoke of their facilities’ efforts to fortify flour with iron and folic acid.

Industry specialists provided technical information on flour fortification, estimating the cost of a minimal flour fortification program with folic acid and iron at about U.S.$0.50 per tonne of wheat, or as little as $0.07 per person per annum.

Based on the enthusiastic reception this year, Maberly said UFF will be represented at the next year’s AOM conference in Dubai, and another symposium could be included.

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