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The Food Fortification Programme is an intervention to enhance the quality of readily available and more affordable foods nutritionally by addition of some vital minerals and vitamins required by the body. Although these minerals and vitamins are required in minute quantities, their absence in the body can cause severe Micronutrient Deficiency Diseases (MDD).

Efforts to curb or eliminate Micronutrient Deficiency Disorders in Nigeria started as a result of recommendations made during the 'World Summit for Children' held in 1990, in New York, USA.

In 1992 at the International Conference on Nutrition (ICN), in Rome, participants called for the virtual elimination of micronutrient deficiencies by the year 2000. These resolutions were further adopted by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) at the Dakar meeting later in the same year.

Available evidence showed that Nigeria had, and still has one of the highest rates of child and maternal mortality in the world with Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD) being a major contributory factor. Micronutrient malnutrition, also known as Hidden Hunger, has become a major devastating nutritional problem affecting the health of children, pregnant women and lactating mothers.

The major Micronutrient Deficiency Disorders include Iodine Deficiency Disorder (IDD), Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD) and Iron Deficiency Anaemia (IDA).

Dr Paul Orhii, Director-General of National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), said that in view of the above, the Federal Government, in collaboration with International Organistions and relevant development agencies, such as World Health Organisation (WHO), Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), United Nations Children's Education Fund (UNICEF), Micronutrient Initiative (MI) and a committee of selected experts initiated certain actions and mounted control programmes aimed at addressing the micronutrient deficiency problems in the country.

'In the late 1990s, the Vitamin A Food Fortification group of experts, which included officers from NAFDAC and the Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) identified three food vehicles - flour, sugar and vegetable oil - to be used for the fortification programme and established the levels for each of the nutrients.

'Standards were set by SON for the Vitamin-Mineral Premixes (Fortificants) and a well defined Code of Practice was established.

'The fortification standards were launched by SON in 2000 and mandatory fortification took effect officially in September 2002.

'The NAFDAC Food Fortification with Vitamin A regulations, 2004 addresses the following areas: prohibition of sales of the specified food vehicles without adequate fortification with Vitamin A, labelling of Vitamin A fortified foods, which include an Eye Logo for its identification, proper packaging, advert materials to be censored and granted permit by NAFDAC before airing, penalty for non-compliance.

'In 2010, GAIN Phase II supported SON to develop additional standards for zinc and folic acid in addition to earlier micronutrients in the mandatory food vehicles. The new standards will soon be disseminated and subsequently used for compliance purposes.

Continuing, Orhii said, 'Currently, we have a high level of compliance, well over 80 per cent, with the Vitamin A Fortification programme among both large and medium scale industry.

'However, the programme is not without challenges. There are two major challenges facing the country as regards Vitamin A food Fortification. These are the continued smuggling of non-fortified edible vegetable oil and sugar into thee country., the existence of cottage industries involved in milking of maize and the manual production of edible vegetable oil, that do not have the facility to fortify their products.

'Although NAFDAC is continuously making efforts to mop up smuggled non-fortified food vehicles, there is need for strengthened and continued collaboration among relevant government agencies in order to prevent the influx of these products into the country.

'There is also the need to look at the possibility of providing retail packs of Vitamin A premixes and sprinkles, which the cottage industries can easily afford in order to ensure 100 per cent mandatory fortification of the three chosen food vehicles in Nigeria.'

'I want to thank UNICEF for this initiative, and all other stakeholders for their kind support. We look forward to continued success in the areas as we work collectively to ensure the success and effectiveness of the food fortification programme in Nigeria,' he said.