New Delhi, February 16th 2023: A new report titled “Do India’s Food Safety Regulator (FSSAI) and Indian Citizens Need Saving From (Foreign & Indian) Private Players Behind Food Fortification Initiatives? – A Report on the Objectionable Conflict of Interest that Pervades India’s Food Fortification Public Policies & Programmes” was released by the Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA) today . The report describes the objectionable conflict of interest that pervades the regulatory regime related to food safety in the country, in the context of food fortification.
The report focuses on an entity named the Food Fortification Resource Center (FFRC), which is an industry linked body, and is located within the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), which is India’s food safety regulator. The report reveals how FFRC’s direct and indirect members stand to financially gain from an expansion in food fortification programs in India. Given the profit motive that exists, the report questions the location of FFRC within the FSSAI, as the latter is a statutory regulatory body whose aim is to protect citizen health, and which is expected to function in an independent fashion. As the report states, “of greatest concern to this report, is why such actors have a seat inside India’s regulatory body, the FSSAI. Moreover, such actors are co-implementing fortification programs, providing funding, advisory services, selling proprietary technologies in state programs, and conducting the government’s so-called ‘independent’ evaluation studies. We make the case that the presence of the FFRC inside the FSSAI deserves further scrutiny and intervention to avoid conflict of interest.”
Fortified foods are now being included in public food schemes like the PDS, ICDS, PMGKAY and MDMS/POSHAN, making these inescapable or near-mandatory for the majority of the country’s population who rely on such food programs. In fact, these food programs are the legal entitlements for a majority of Indians and the scale of these programs is huge. So far, no independent in-country risk analysis has been conducted, while evaluation studies are still not available in 2022 for 3-year pilots on fortified rice in PDS that had been initiated in 2019 by the government in partnership with external NGOs, including those linked to the nutraceutical industry. Moreover, citizen groups have also revealed how statutory guidelines are being violated in implementation . For example, even though FSSAI’s statutory regulations include caution against iron fortified food consumption by Thalassemia and Sickle Cell Anaemia patients , it is being indiscriminately given to everyone, without any process for screening for such medical conditions, and without alternatives being provided to such patients to meet their entitlements under the Right to Food Act.
The authors of the report were surprised to find that an RTI response from the Government of India pointed to the FFRC as the main authority looking at food fortification in India . Upon further investigation, they found that the FFRC is an industry linked body. A citizen’s letter addressed to the regulator was responded to by the FFRC, as another curious illustration of FFRCs clout .
Although the FFRC claims to be merely a resource centre, its importance and role in policy making is evident, claims the report, showing how FFRC members have publicly praised their lobbying efforts for potentially making fortification mandatory in India . This paper goes into detail about each of the corporate actors and NGOs inside the FFRC as well as their financial interest in fortification, based on public information that could be gathered about the entities.
Examples of partners  of the FFRC include the Tata Trusts, which is the founding partner of the FFRC and is linked to the Tata Group, Wella Nutrologicals, and Tata Global Beverages- all of whom stand to benefit from fortification as they produce nutraceuticals used in fortification or manufacture fortified food products. Another key partner is the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), which includes in its membership many nutraceuticals and big food corporations like BASF, DSM, and Cargill. GAIN also runs its own premix facility through which it manufactures and sells fortified foods to international markets. PATH, a vaccine, drugs, and devices manufacturer, and member of the FFRC, holds a trademark on a fortified rice technology called Ultra Rice®, which is being supplied in the governments mid-day meals in some states. Several other examples provided in the report reveal that these corporate actors stand to benefit financially from a push for fortification in India. Many of these entities are in turn linked to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has played a role in funding lobby groups to open markets, get favorable tax rates, and receive speedier regulatory review for big food corporations in other countries .
The report concludes by highlighting key concerns with the FFRC’s location within the FSSAI. Aside from the important issue of potential conflict of interest, there is also a one-sided portrayal of fortification as a silver bullet solution without any other critical scientific perspectives and evidence on fortification. It is important to point out that individual expert members of FSSAI scientific panel on fortification have in fact been publishing articles advising strongly against iron fortification push in the country . However, the FFRC push seems to be prevailing, while what is happening inside the statutory bodies of the FSSAI has been kept opaque.
And finally, the mandates of the FSSAI and the FFRC are divergent- FSSAI is supposed to be guided by the principles of food safety which include risk assessment in an independent manner, transparent public consultations, protection of consumer choice and interest among others. The FFRC on the other hand has a sponsored promotional role. Given such concerns, this report highlights the structural problem in housing private interests within a regulatory body like the FSSAI and urges that their sphere of influence is checked in matters of public health and food safety in accordance with India’s laws.
You can download the new ASHA (ALLIANCE FOR SUSTAINABLE & HOLISTIC AGRICULTURE) report here
A powerpoint presentation used during the Press Conference to release the report is here
 For example, this statement by them ““It is widely agreed that GAIN played a key role in engaging with FSSAI and convincing various levels of government in certain states to include the mandatory use of fortified edible oil in their national social protection schemes … importantly, the success of this program has reportedly primed India to adopt mandatory fortification of edible oil.” Appears here: https://www.gainhealth.org/sites/default/files/publications/documents/assessment-of-gain-large-scale-food-fortification-portfolio.pdf
Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA)