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03/12/2016

Milan Expo explores fortified food as solution to malnutrition

Agriculture & Food

Milan Expo explores fortified food as solution to malnutrition

The "Tree of life" at Milan Expo 2015. [Henriette Jacobsen]

Fortified foods could become part of the solution to malnutrition and address food security concerns, according to experts at this year’s Milan Expo. EurActiv reports from Milan.

Global demand for food is rising by the day, fuelled by a growing world population and fast urbanisation. This is putting pressure on already limted land, energy and water resources at a time of environmental pressures caused by climate change.

Meanwhile, around 795 million people (at least 10.9% of the world population) are suffering from chronic hunger and undernourishment.

One effect of undernourishment is stunting, a condition caused by a chronic lack of malnutrition. Stunting occurs from pregnancy until the first two years of life, when the signs of stunting start to show. Over one-third of children under five years of age experience stunted growth, as measured by international standards of height for age, according to the Millennium Challenge Corporation.

At Milan Expo last week, nutrition experts said fortified food will be crucial to feeding the planet, the theme of this years’ universal exposition.

Food fortification is the process of adding micronutrients to food, such as vitamins. The most common fortified foods are cereals and cereal-based products, milk and dairy products, fats and oils, tea and other beverages, as well as infant formulas.

Poland's pavilion at the Expo Milan 2015.Poland’s pavilion at the Expo Milan 2015.

Speaking at the EU’s pavilion during the EU’s food industry’s congress week on Wednesday (1 July), Lynnda Kiess, head of nutrition policy at the UN World Food Programme, said that while fortified foods play an important part in addressing malnutrition, they are not the only solution as people need a diversified diet.

“Fortified food is not going to give fibers necessarily or other key elements that you need in a normal diet. Your diet can’t only become fortified food, but fortified food can contribute a lot,” Kiess said.

She said the UN is currently trying to reach children with the most cost-effective complementary foods in order for them to fulfill their nutritional requirements. Many can’t afford for example to buy meat, and this is where fortified complementary foods play a vital part.

Anne Heughan, director for Nutrition and Health at Unilever, the British-Dutch multinational, agreed that fortified foods cannot solve all nutrition problems and that dietary diversity was important. However, there are areas where fortification on a mass scale can help bring countries out of a difficult public health situation, she said.

Warren Lee, senior nutrition officer at the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), said that in some developing countries, vulnerable groups in particular have high demands for nutritious foods, for example for child growth.

As it remains unclear what happens if people only live off fortified food all their lives, it’s also necessary to educate communities to eat local food, the FAO representative said.

John Ingram, Food Systems Programme leader at Oxford University, mentioned that fortified food is only one element in a larger toolbox.

“There isn’t one answer. Some tools are effective at a particular occasion, and the question is how to have the right knowledge and to know when to use which tool,” he said.

The Dutch pavilion at Expo Milan 2015The Dutch pavilion at Expo Milan 2015

Henriette Jacobsen

Background

While the global population is expected to reach nine billion by 2050, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates the world by then would have to increase its food production by 70% to feed the population. This means that the global demand for animal-based protein sources would double between 2000 and 2050.

Development aid organisations are already delivering fortified food products to the world's poorest to combat malnutrition. Food fortification is the process of adding micronutrients (essential trace elements and vitamins) to food. The most common fortified foods are cereals and cereal based products, milk and dairy products, fats and oils, tea and other beverages, as well as infant formulas.

Timeline

  • 1 May-31 Oct.: Milan Expo