Mandatory flour fortification in Mexico means industry must fortify all wheat and nixtamalized maize flours with iron, zinc, folic acid, and vitamins B1, B2 and B3. The current standards provide minimum quantity requirements and recommend suitable sources for each micronutrient.
But, global campaign accelerator Changing Markets Foundation, in partnership with Proyecto AliMente, found just 7% of flour products in Mexico were adequately fortified. Independent tests conducted at the end of 2018 in the states of Mexico City and Chiapas analyzed 61 different wheat and maize-flour products from 44 different brands; a total of 343 samples.
'Major failures' for corn flour in particular
Findings in the full report showed 14 samples of flour products were not fortified at all; none of the imported products tested complied with Mexican regulations; and many others were either fortified with the wrong quantities of micronutrient compounds or used sources with poor absorption properties. The only products adequately fortified were wheat flours; none of the corn flours tested were.
“It is serious that none of the corn flour products seem to be adequately fortified. Even more worrying are the irregularities found in subsidized products aimed at the most vulnerable population,” Changing Markets Foundation wrote in its report.
“...Considering that corn represented 72% of grain consumption in Mexico, corn flour producers have a greater responsibility to guarantee the success of fortification programs to combat iron deficiency and nutritional anemia in the country.”
Speaking to NutraIngredients-LATAM, Alice Delemare, campaign advisor at Changing Markets Foundation, said: “When nine out of ten women are not getting enough iron and a quarter of children in Mexico suffer from anemia, this huge failure on the part of flour manufacturers to fortify flours correctly is inexcusable.”
The food industry had an obligation to follow laws and a moral responsibility to improve nutrition, Delemare said, but the investigation showed flour manufacturers were “failing on both counts”.
However, the implications of these findings stretched far beyond the flour sector, she said.
“Food processors also have a moral responsibility to demand adequately fortified flour from their suppliers. Companies making flour-rich products, such as industrially produced tortillas and breads, need to check they are using flour that is fortified in line with the law. The food industry, as a whole, is pivotal in shaping our food environment and tackling malnutrition.”
“...Our investigation in Mexico shows the importance of continued enforcement of fortification laws,” she said.
New government hope?
On December 1, 2018, Mexico voted in Andres Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) as the new president in a landslide vote. And Delemare said the Changing Markets Foundation had presented findings of the flour fortification investigation to the new government.
“The new government has a clear opportunity to take a fresh look at the actions of the food industry and uphold the law that was established to guarantee that Mexicans get essential nutrients and vitamins through their flour. Food fortification works, but only when it's done properly,” she said.
The Changing Markets Foundation recommended government strengthened existing regulation, regularly inspected flour companies and sanctioned those not complying, she said.
“If the new government takes immediate control of the situation left by the previous administration, and ensures food fortification is carried out properly, a profound change could be made for the health and nutrition of Mexican people,” Delemare said.
NutraIngredients-LATAM contacted Mexico's National Chamber of Wheat Milling (CANIMOLT]) and the Mexican arm of the Latin American Millers Association (ALIM-Mexico) but neither organization could be reached for comment prior to publication.