Seven out of ten Filipino infants, aged six months to one year old, suffer from iron deficiency anemia. This was revealed in a study done by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute and the Department of Science and Technology in 2003.
Lack of iron is said to result in impaired mental and physical development, increased susceptibility to infection, low endurance, sluggishness and low capacity for work.
To curb this nutritional deficiency, most commonly seen among young children and women in their pre-reproductive age, the national government through the National Food Authority (NFA) will begin distributing iron-fortified rice in the market starting next year.
“This is part of solving the hidden hunger or the problem on the lack of micronutrients particularly vitamin A, iron and iodine,” Ferdinand Macusi, senior grains operation officer, explained.
He said that this program form part of RA 8976, an act establishing the Philippine food fortification program, which was passed by Congress in 2000. “This law mandates the addition of essential micronutrients to widely consumed food products at level above its natural taste like sugar, edible oil, rice and flour,” he added.
The FNRI technology used in making the pre-mix is already available at the NFA central office in Manila, Macusi reported. “Ethyl cellulose and alcohol will be used as binder to coat the rice with ferric sulfate in an octagonal mixer,” he said.
The pre-mix will then be distributed to millers nationwide to be added to newly milled rice to produce the iron-fortified rice.
Consumers expect an added cost of P.15 per kg but the health benefits outweigh the increase in price, Macusi said.
“Note that this is mandatory, meaning all rice for commercial sale need to be fortified,” he stressed. “Our office and the Bureau of Food and Drugs (BFAD) will conduct monitoring activities and penalties will be imposed on millers and retailers who violate this order, he warned.
Macusi assured consumers that the process has no effect on the taste and sensory characteristics of the iron-fortified rice. “It is no different from regular rice,” he said. “The shelf life is also the same with that of regular rice,” he added.
He added further that there is no problem of over dosage or toxicity. “The average daily consumption of cooked rice is 300 grams and this would only yield six milligrams of iron. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) is 12 milligrams,” he said.
“We began training our technical personnel for the food fortification process last year and conducted a pilot sale in Manila and Cagayan de Oro. Initially, we were able to sell 2.88 tons or 57,600 bags of US (USPL 480) fortified rice at P21/kg, Macusi relayed.
He explained that NFA will have to import its rice supply because of the low production among local farmers, following the series of typhoons that hit the country. We expect the supply to come in from Vietnam around February next year,” he shared.
“Our target is 100 percent fortification of rice in the market by 2007, which is equivalent to 1,299 metric tons or some 26 million bags of rice.
Macusi is hopeful that they will be able to meet their target. Local officials including retailers and millers have all signified their willingness to help in the program, he said.
Aleli Aggasid-Batara, Contributor