Experts Call For Withdrawal Of Fortified Rice Scheme For Health Problems In Odisha

Bhubaneswar: With complaints against fortified rice coming from different parts of Odisha, several organisations involved in healthcare activities and nutritionists have demanded suspension of its distribution by the state government, particularly for consumption by children.

In a letter to departments of School and Mass Education, Food Supplies and Consumer Welfare and Women and Child Development, they have said the complaints indicate more than lack of awareness about fortified rice.

“It is about communities’ lack of preference towards fortified rice, an undemocratic approach towards something as basic as communities’ preferences for food and their right to know and informed choices and adverse impacts from  consumption of fortified rice.

Stating that the move has failed to prove its efficacy, they said anaemia is a medical condition and is best addressed in an individual case management approach. If it has to be dealt with as a public health matter, it is an imperative that proven, holistic, community-controlled dietary-diversity-enhancing approaches should be followed.

“It is well known that iron-fortified foods are contra-indicated for people with thalassemia, and sickle-cell anaemia as well as particular stages of infectious diseases like malaria, tuberculosis etc. This is also not administered when there is severe acute malnourishment, and such SAM cases are known in Odisha (and other states) as the NRCs indicate,” they said.

They also questioned how can government feed its citizens iron-fortified rice, including to those who have been identified with the above medical conditions as well as those who suffer from these conditions but have not been screened? How is this being done in schemes that are actually entitlements of the citizens under the National Food Security Act 2013, they further queried.

Besides, the scheme has been extended to other places without evaluation and expert public scrutiny of the pilot project in Malkangiri district.

Expressing deep concerns and objections to this approach to nutrition in Odisha, they said the state is gaining good name for its more holistic approaches around Nutrition Gardens (Mo Upkari Bagicha) and Millets Mission. Odisha has also the distinction of having civil society groups which have revived traditional paddy varieties which have been documented to be nutritionally superior.

Under the circumstances, adopting such risky approaches for addressing malnutrition is uncalled for, they said and demanded that the government should suspend its fortified rice distribution immediately and call for a comprehensive review meeting to assess the need for such an approach, alternatives available for the same, and involve civil society groups in such a dialogue.

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