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Millers to power flour with mineral mix

© UNICEF Uzbekistan/2005/ Haydarov
© UNICEF Uzbekistan/2005/ Haydarov
At a rural roadside market near Kokand in Ferghana Valley, Uzbekistan, a traditional bread retailer reads a brochure outlining the benefits of fortified flour.

UNICEF: Flour fortification would cut maternal mortality, birth defects and deliver widespread public health benefits

Istanbul/Geneva, 9 November 2006 – Fortifying flour with essential vitamins and minerals would greatly reduce maternal mortality, birth defects such as spina bifida, and protect the brain, blood and muscle tissue of children and women, said UNICEF, ahead of a meeting of the flour milling industry starting tomorrow in Istanbul.

The International Association of Operative Millers (IAOM) Inaugural Eurasia Conference and Expo which runs over the weekend will bring together the ‘right mix’ of government, industry and international agencies, followed by a regional Leaders’ Group meeting of the Flour Fortification Initiative (FFI).

Some 20-40 per cent of children and women are anaemic because of a poor diet. This compromises their ability to learn and lead an active, productive life. By just adding iron and folic acid to flour, this problem can be eliminated,” - Maria Calivis, UNICEF Regional Director for (CEE/CIS).

“Some 20-40 per cent of children and women are anaemic because of a poor diet,” said Maria Calivis, UNICEF Regional Director for Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CEE/CIS). “This compromises their ability to learn and lead an active, productive life. By just adding iron and folic acid to flour, this problem can be eliminated,” she added.

Vitamin and mineral deficiencies affect the majority of women and children in this region. In Central Asia alone, 14 million women and children are anaemic and, as a result, 9,000 women die each year during pregnancy and childbirth. In addition, children lose 5-15 IQ points compromising their future earning power by 2-5 per cent.

Flour mill in Dashoguz region of Turkmenistan
© UNICEF/2006/Giacomo Pirozzi
Flour mill in Dashoguz region of Turkmenistan supported by UNICEF. Currently, 17 out of 21 large flour mills in Turkmenistan produce about 600,000 tonnes of wheat flour fortified with iron per year.

Most leaders in the CEE/CIS have recognised the benefits of fortifying flour and the aim of the conference is to make flour fortification in large industrial mills routine or ‘run-of-the-mill’ in all countries. Wheat flour and bread are the staple food of the region and such a move would ensure better iron and folic acid intake across the whole population.

Two years ago, the Copenhagen Consensus Center* invited a panel of distinguished economists, including three Nobel laureates, to review a range of proposals to improve the lives of people in developing countries. This panel concluded that providing micronutrients was the second of the very best options out of 17, as measured against a ratio of social benefit to cost. It exceeded costs by a factor of 10 or more.

Furthermore, the health benefits to governments in monetary terms - in the order of 40:1 – are exceptional as an investment in the development of nations. Iron deficiency in adults is so widespread that it is lowering the productivity of workforces by up to two per cent of GDP in the worst-affected countries. Flour fortification reduces anaemia at a cost of only $1-2 per metric tonne or about 20 cents per person per year.

“The arguments for fortifying flour with iron and folic acid are so compelling, the health benefits so far-reaching and the need so obvious and urgent that, even if it were difficult, we should do it,” said Arnold Timmer who heads up UNICEF’s regional Nutrition Programme. “But it isn’t difficult: it is simple, it is cheap and it is effective,” he said.

A blend of educational seminars and resources, networking lunches and industry-related workshops will cover all aspects of flour fortification including EU and WTO regulatory compliance.

The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition – GAIN – has been at the forefront of this push for IAOM to build an industry network in the CEE/CIS region. GAIN, UNICEF, WHO, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with 50 other international public, private and civic organizations, comprise the FFI Leaders Group, which has adopted the goal of fortifying 70 percent of the world’s roller mill wheat flour with at least iron and folic acid by 2008.

*The Copenhagen Consensus Center (CCC) analyses the world's greatest challenges and works with any organization concerned with mitigating the effects of these problems

About UNICEF

For 60 years UNICEF has been the world’s leader for children, working on the ground in 156 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.  The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS.  UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.

For more information, please contact:

Lynn Geldof, Regional Communication Adviser, UNICEF CEE/CIS
Tel: +41 22 909 5429
Mobile: +41 79 431 1537

Sema Hosta, Communication Officer, UNICEF Turkey
Tel: +90 312 454 1000
Mobile: +90 533 413 9116

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