ATLANTA, GEORGIA, U.S. — Considering the potential for fortified rice to improve the nutrition of billions of people, the Flour Fortification Initiative (FFI) said on May 15 that it is adding rice to its focus and changing its name to the Food Fortification Initiative. Since rice is most commonly eaten as whole kernels, it is not reflected in FFI’s original name. 

FFI’s strategy is to support national partnerships with advocacy resources and technical assistance for planning, implementing, and monitoring fortification programs. This will not change; rice will simply be added to FFI’s traditional focus on industrially milled flour.

“We must find practical solutions for rice fortification, because literally billions of people live in countries where health burdens are high and rice is a staple food,” said Scott J. Montgomery, FFI director. “Rice is the new frontier in food fortification, and with our partners we are discovering ways to make fortifying it feasible. With our name change, we are trying to be clear to country leaders from every sector that we are another resource for them as they explore rice fortification.”

In 59 countries, an average of more than 75 grams of rice per person per day is available for human consumption, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The highest average is in Bangladesh with 475 grams.

The total population of these 59 countries is 4.1 billion. If fortification of industrially milled rice reached half of that population, 2 billion people would have more nutrition in their daily diets.

Grains are commonly fortified during the milling process to reduce the risk of anemia caused by nutritional deficiencies and neural tube birth defects caused by insufficient folic acid. The highest concentrations of children and women with anemia are in South Asia and Central and West Africa, based on a study published in The Lancet Global Health in July 2013. Countries in these regions are among the highest in average rice availability.

“People around the world get most of their calories and carbohydrates from wheat, rice, and maize. To the extent that we can fortify the milled products of these grains, the greater health impact we will have,” said Reynaldo Martorell, Woodruff Professor of International Nutrition and senior advisor at the Global Health Institute at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. Martorell is also a member of the FFI executive management team.

“Much of what we’ve learned about wheat flour fortification applies to rice fortification,” said Greg Harvey, group chief executive of the Interflour Group with headquarters in Singapore. He has been a member of FFI’s executive management team since 2007 and chairman since 2010.

The reasons to fortify are the same, regardless of the grain, and the planning and monitoring processes are similar for each grain. Only the technical process of fortification is different for rice.

Capital costs to begin rice fortification vary depending on the type of technology used. The recurring costs to fortify one metric ton of rice range from $6 to $20, depending mainly on the complexity of the mix of vitamins and mineral added. These costs are expected to decrease as rice fortification becomes more common.

In addition to health benefits, fortification offers economic benefits to countries through improved productivity as nutritional anemia is prevented. Also, thousands of healthcare dollars are averted by preventing neural tube defects. The most common of these birth defects is spina bifida, and affected children often need costly surgeries and treatments.

FFI represents public, private and civic-sector leaders at the national, regional, and global levels. Among FFI’s partners with international expertise in rice fortification are Bühler Group, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), PATH, the World Food Program and the Wright Group.