The debate on food security in India, till not very long ago, revolved around making available adequate quantities of produce to feed our vast population. However, of late, the emphasis has started shifting from quantity to quality, signaling a paradigm shift in the understanding, if not definition, of “food security”. And there’s no better candidate to take the discussion forward than milk.
The quantity question in milk has since long been addressed. It is the country’s largest “crop” today, both by volume and value. India is, moreover, the global leader in milk production by miles, with its daily per capita availability, at 375 grams, also above the world average. Qualitatively, too, it is a wholesome food containing animal protein, fat, carbohydrate, calories and sugar as well as calcium, phosphorus and vitamin A, D, B2 and B12.
But it does not end there. Being a universally consumed food – in India, vegetarianism does not extend to veganism — milk also offers itself as a natural vehicle for a nationwide food fortification program that can effectively address the problem of under-nutrition among large sections of our masses. The potential is even more given the high-income elasticity of demand for milk in the lower quintiles and deciles: Since their consumption of it would grow relatively faster than others’ with increased incomes, why not pack added nutrition into an already-nutritious food?
It is in this context that the current controversy over milk fortification, involving the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) and the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF, better known as Amul), assumes significance. The national food safety regulator, in October 2016, brought into effect standards for fortification of milk with vitamin A and D, using premix supplements such as retinyl acetate or palmitate (for the former) and cholecalciferol or ergocalciferol (for the latter).
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