The food served to millions of Indians is all set to change. We talked about how fortified rice is making inroads into Public Distribution System (PDS) despite a very inadequate pilot study and disregarding the health concerns of 80 crore beneficiaries. We raised the question of why is the government hell-bent on doing it without much evidence of its effectiveness. Now, a new report by the reporter’s collective has found that large corporate interests might be the reason behind this big move that could potentially change the very food on our plate. 

Six international organisations linked to one company Royal DSM, from the Netherlands, influenced the government, to open the Indian market to global suppliers and manufacturers of premixes reported the collective.

This premix is a crucial part of the fortification process. To create fortified rice, first milled rice is ground to dust, then a premix or another powder of micronutrients is mixed with it, finally creating rice-shaped kernels using machines. These kernels are then mixed with rice in a ratio of 1:100. 

India’s Public distribution system reaches 80 crore people. If all of that is to be fortified, it creates an assured annual business of at least Rs 1800 crore. 

Soon after the PM’s announcement on 15th August 2021, Royal DSM swiftly set up a fortified rice kernel manufacturing facility in Hyderabad. They even thanked the government for its mandate on fortified rice. The company plans to reach 850 million people by 2030. 

As per the extensive report by the reporter’s collective, this whole plan took shape at a global symposium on rice fortification in Mexico. Unsurprisingly, it was organised by none other than Royal DSM. Just a month after the conference, FSSAI, the food and safety regulator of India was ready with a resource centre to create demand for fortification.

It is also alleged that Royal DSM worked with NGOs and other groups to lobby and champion its corporate interests worldwide. It actively funded them and partnered with them. PATH- one of the NGOs that gets funds from Royal DSM, helped FSSAI to prepare its standards and procedures, almost copying the same text in the handouts. 

Ignoring the findings of the pilot projects, and several warnings by medical experts, the government went on to cherry-pick evidence to support its plans of mass fortification. The resource centre created for the fortification project mentions several studies by DSM-affiliated NGOs and DSM itself. All of them prove the same – fortified rice is an effective way to combat malnutrition. 

A report by Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture released in February describes the objectionable conflict of interest, that pervades the regulatory regime related to food safety in the country, in the context of food fortification. It shows the clear profit motive linking several industry players to the food fortification program. 

More food fortification is coming. But given the shoddy research and large private interests at play, it becomes imperative to check them swiftly before they play with the health of crores of people at the mercy of government-based schemes. 

Read the 3-part report from the reporter’s collective here: 

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