Modi Gov’t Ignores Internal Warning On Health Risk, Forces Fortified Rice On Poor

The Modi government is experimenting with the food being served to 800 million Indians. The poor are the guinea pigs.

The Reporters’ Collective

It has begun serving rice fortified with micronutrients to the poor, saying the food will bring down anaemia and other micronutrient deficiencies rampant in India.

But documents reviewed by The Reporters Collective show, in doing so, the government ignored the finance ministry’s warning that the move was “premature” and zipped past the red flag raised by the head of the country’s leading medical research body, show documents.

The head of the Indian Council for Medical Research had called for wider consultations following “serious concerns” on the “adverse effects” of fortified rice on children and warning against pushing it before understanding its impact on human health.

The Union government went ahead with the project despite the fact that the majority of pilot projects launched by his government to test the rice’s nutritional impact had not taken off at all. Instead of waiting for the results of all the pilots, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a leap of blind faith by announcing on Independence Day in 2021 that fortified rice will be given to half of India by 2024.

A closer look at the evidence the Food Department compiled in favour of rice fortification raises more questions about the decision to supply fortified rice.

One of the studies among schoolchildren had found that consumption of fortified rice posed a health risk. To top it, the food department omitted the study, which is considered a gold standard in scientific literature worldwide, from the list of evidence. Why? It didn’t say what the government wanted to hear.

Read the first part of the investigative series by Shreegireesh Jalihal here, which sheds light on how a major health policy decision was taken in haste.

To sum up the policymaking using a kitchen allegory, cooking rice may seem easy, but knowing when the carb is ready is the trickiest part.

Note for our readers: We’ve taken a significant step by publishing the investigative story on our website instead of partnering with a publication as we usually do. We request you to let us know what you think about the story and the presentation.

Coming up next: After Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered that all poor Indians get fortified rice, a government body carried out a review. The report was never made public. We reveal it in part 2.

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