More companies are complying with the directive to fortify their products as debate on fortification rages.
Nestle Zimbabwe and starafricacorporation have complied with the addition of nutrients in the manufacturing of their basic commodities to eliminate the prevalence of iodine deficiencies in the country.
Starting from July 1 this year, Government came up with Statutory Instrument 120 of 2017-Mandatory Food Fortification Programme- where food processing companies were compelled to add nutrients to everyday foods such as bread, mealie meal, cooking oil and sugar to enrich consumers’ diets.
Millers and cooking oil producers have since rejected the programme citing an unnecessary increase of production costs by a 10 percent margin.
Starafricacorporation chief executive Mr Regis Mutyiri told The Herald Business that, “The company has already started to comply with the Government’s directive of adding some vitamins to improve the well-being of sugar consumers. The operating environment is not that favourable but customers’ health supersedes everything.
“Work is in progress to fortify Goldstar white sugar with Vitamin A as a way to enhance the value that our customers will gain from consuming our product. Some of the benefits from the Vitamin A include improved health to the skin, eyes and general immunity of the consumer. The fortification process started on July 1, 2017.”
The food fortification programme aims to address micro-nutrient deficiencies which will help the country address the problem of malnutrition in people.
Micro-nutrients which are being added are Vitamin A, zinc, iodine, iron and folate help on the general well-being of a person to improve. Nestle communications and public affairs manager Mr Farai Munetsi said the company had already started the fortification process way before it came into effect.
“Nestle Zimbabwe has already fortified its product portfolio way before the Statutory Instrument was promulgated. “As Nestle we believe in providing adequate nutrients, health and wellness of our customers hence fortification was always our priority.
“Healthy eating is all about balance — eating the right amount to match how active you are, and enjoying a variety of foods, so you get all the nutrients you need hence fortification is a must in our line of work,” said Mr Munetsi.
However, some companies are not ready to comply with SI 120 as they view mandatory fortification as an additional cost to an already overburdened industry.
Millers have approached Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa over the mandatory fortification programme and have since threatened to pull out of the $200 million Command Agriculture funding.
VP Mnangagwa who is the Chairman of the Cabinet Committee on Food Security and Nutrition and leader of Command Agriculture has not yet responded to the issue.
Health and Child Care Minister, Dr David Parirenyatwa, who launched the fortification programme on July 2017, declined the request for deferment of mandatory fortification saying that preparations for the programme were initiated as early as 2013 through wide consultations.
“The industry including your association as GMAZ has been participating in national Food Fortification stakeholders meetings involving development of standards, development of relevant regulations and statutes and engaging with community leaders and consumers.
‘‘We have provided adequate time for the industry to prepare for the mandatory food fortification and provided technical support in training industry stuff, assisting industries in identifying the right equipment,” said Dr Parirenyatwa.
Economist Dr Gift Mugano sees fortification as a luxury which should only be implemented after attending to the basics. “Let’s deal with the basics first. I view fortification equipment and fortificants as a luxury thing which in my view is a dessert which is only eaten after the main meal. Companies are struggling especially after enduring successive years of drought so they are still rebuilding, pushing up capacity and supply, giving them an extra cost of fortificants will derail their chances of turnaround.
“The Health Ministry should come up with empirical evidence and numbers as to what benefit it brings and at what cost. It won’t carry any weight to have fortificants when our basics are not in adequate supply.
“As for the millers their case is very clear in that they are facing some nostro liabilities and they don’t need any extra cost but they should try to stand somewhere in between — to say for the time being we are not able to comply but around such and such a time we will be able to comply,” he said.
Companies that have already fortified or indicated their readiness to start the food fortification programme are National Foods, Grain Marketing Board, Mega Foods, Tongaat Hulett, Blue Ribbon, Parrogate, Gutsamhuri, Uni-Foods and Zim Source Foods.