A substantial population in Jharkhand was found suffering with anaemia, but were also found to be prone to blood illnesses such as thalassemia and sickle-cell anaemia. As per experts, fortified rice is leading to these side effects amongst Adivasis.
A multidisciplinary fact-finding team of NGOs, including medical experts, has concluded that the Union government’s scheme to allocate subsidized iron-fortified rice might very well do more damage than good to Adivasis, or indigenous populations, who struggle from sickle-cell anaemia and thalassemia and are genetically prone to these diseases.
To combat hunger and poor health outcomes among a wide segment of the population, the Union Cabinet approved a plan on April 8 to deliver fortified rice through government-run food programs, including to 800 million recipients under the public distribution system, reports Hindustan Times.
Following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promise during his 2021 Independence Day speech that his government would solely provide fortified rice in all food initiatives by 2024, the decision was made. The government is expected to spend roughly ₹2700 crore on the scheme.
Anaemia and iron deficiency are fairly common in the country. According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) 2019-21, India’s health and nutritional performance have not improved much.
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Anaemia has deteriorated among children under the age of five, with a frequency of about 67.1 percent compared to 58.6 percent in the fourth round of the NFHS, and 57 percent of women of reproductive age are anemic.
Nevertheless, the fact-finding team discovered that iron-fortified rice distribution has had a negative impact on Adivasi populations with sickle-cell anaemia and thalassemia after visiting a tribal area in Jharkhand wherein fortified rice is being supplied in a pilot program.
“For population with these blood disorders, fortified iron is not an answer. The FSSAI’s regulations on fortified foods ask for mandatory labelling, to have a (warning) statement that asks thalassemia patients to consume such iron-fortified food under medical supervision,” Prasad added. “It further warns sickle-cell anaemia patients not to consume iron-fortified food.” The Food Standards and Safety Authority of India is abbreviated as FSSAI.
Although certain studies suggest that biofortified foods may be a remedy to such inadequacies, other research suggests that a blanket approach to iron-fortified rice may not be a fix. Many specialists believe that a varied diet is the best way to combat malnutrition.
The team discovered a substantial population in Jharkhand suffering with anaemia but also prone to blood illnesses such as thalassemia and sickle-cell anaemia after interviewing numerous beneficiaries of fortified rice.
Vandana Prasad, a public health expert affiliated with the Right to Food Campaign, Kavitha Kuruganti, a farmers’ rights activist affiliated with ASHA-Kisan Swaraj, Balram and James Herenz of the Right to Food Campaign, Jharkhand, and Rohin Kumar of Greenpeace India comprised the fact-finding group.