New Delhi: Cargill India Pvt Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of US-based food, agricultural and financial services giant Cargill, has decided to fortify refined oils that it sells in the domestic market with vitamin A, D and E.
“Malnutrition in India is high and according to World Health Organization, around 80 million Indians are at risk because of vitamin A deficiencies. We have decided that we will not pass on the burden of fortifying oil to customers,” said Siraj A Choudhry, chairman, Cargill India.
According to government statistics, nearly 46% of children below four years are malnourished and 33% of women in the age group of 15-49 have a body mass index (a measurement of healthy body) below normal.
Cargill India sell around 5,00,000 tonnes of edible oil a year, including soya, palm, sunflower, ground nut and mustard oils besides hydrogenated fats, to wholesale trade, processed food industry and retail customers. Its share is around 4% of the 13 million tonnes of total edible oil sold in the country in a year.
The fortification initiative will cost the company around Rs5-7 crore a year. The first lot of fortified oils have already been rolled out.
“Each litre of vegetable oil will cost us 20 paise. The total cost, therefore, works out to Rs10 crore. But since some portion of oil is supplied to the industry that makes biscuits, noodles, namkeens and other edible oils and some of them already fortify their end product, oil sold to them may not be fortified,” said Choudhry. He added that the company has already started working out with such companies whether fortification would be required in oil supplied to them or not.
Edible oil business contributes almost 50% or Rs3,000 crore to Cargill’s total business in the country. Its brands Gemini and Nature Fresh comprising soyabean, sunflower, cotton seed oil, ground nut and mustard oil, are in the mid- segment and largely cater to the middle class with the maximum retail prices in the range of Rs68-100 a litre.
Cargill India largely imports vegetable oils from countries such as Argentina and Malaysia, refines and then markets them in the domestic market.
The company got an idea of fortifying its oil from the Gujarat government which has made it mandatory for all vegetable oils to be fortified.
B Sivakumar, former director of the National Institute of Nutrition, a government-affiliated body, is not very enthused with the programme. “The intention might be noble, but vitamin deficiency in India is a complicated problem, and mere oil fortification won’t help.”
Lower income groups, he said, generally use less-refined oil that have most of the nutrients including vitamins A and D. “The refining process, which increases the cost of the oil, removes these nutrients. Also, anyone who can afford that oil, can also afford other, more wholesome sources of those nutrients such as nuts, meat etc.”
According to him, there is also a regional variation of nutrient deficiency within the country. “Kerala, for instance, has far less incidence of vitamin A deficiency than places such as Bihar and Jharkhand, because of their local diet. Thus a blanket increase in vitamin content might not be good for all. Over consumption of vitamin A could actually be harmful,” he added.
Jacob P Koshy contributed to this story.