Progress through Policy

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“Red tape will often get in your way. It’s one of the reasons I often carry scissors.” – Richard Branson

The lack of harmonized regulations and standards prevents the most vulnerable populations from accessing high-quality and affordable nutritional products like MMS. Photo Credit: Vitamin Angels

Several low- and middle-income countries that see significant levels of maternal anemia and low birth weight newborns are considering the introduction and scale-up of Multiple Micronutrient Supplements, or MMS, to provide mothers the nutrients they need for healthy pregnancies. This is an admirable goal, albeit one that is frustratingly impeded by significant regulatory challenges. For example, there is little consensus on how a nutritional product is classified in different countries or by international agencies; it can be considered either a dietary supplement and regulated as a food or a therapeutic product regulated as a drug. In addition, regulatory agencies worldwide set different manufacturing requirements and quality standards for nutritional products, which are not always harmonized. This then presents challenges when a nutritional supplement is imported into or manufactured in countries with different regulation levels, ultimately preventing the most vulnerable populations from accessing high-quality and affordable products with the potential to improve health outcomes significantly.

A country’s food system is an equally complex machine, with the interplay between farmers, consumers, regulators, testers, manufacturers, and distributors. Inefficiencies or problems anywhere in this ecosystem can cause a domino effect felt along the value chain. Sadly, authorities in many countries in the Global South currently lack the capacity to create and enforce regulatory frameworks conducive to providing safe, nutritious, and accessible foods. Many producers also struggle to comply with the regulatory frameworks in place due to a lack of testing capacity and compliance support, leading to products that do not meet national or international standards or align with label claims.

There are systemic hurdles to delivering proper nutrition to those who need it. What can be done?

One of the most important steps in inducing a transformational change in food systems is integrating nutrition in sectors beyond public health, bringing private sector players into the nutrition fold. How can governments achieve this? Let us take the example of large-scale staple food fortification in India, such as rice or edible oil. Given that fortified variants are usually slightly more expensive to produce than unfortified products, voluntary fortification does not present a strong business case for the private sector, and compliance can quickly evaporate when there is a change of corporate management or leadership in the governing body—making fortification mandatory would increase compliance. The government is also poised to assist companies by educating their citizens on the health benefits of choosing a fortified food. This assistance, or “carrot”, creates a market incentive to balance the “stick” of mandatory regulation.

 

The Indian government roped in the most popular cricketer in the country, Virat Kohli, for a brand-agnostic campaign to create a consumer pull for fortified foods and incentivize the private sector to sustainably introduce fortified variants in the market. Source: Food Fortification Resource Centre

As demonstrated by this example, government regulators and the private sector can find ways to support the health of their population and consumers in a coordinated manner.

The challenges highlighted earlier can seem intractable, but Sight and Life believes that a new initiative can lead to real progress – Food Systems Innovation Hubs. These hubs, which will operate in rapidly emerging economies in need of regulatory assistance, can share expertise and resources to foster capacity-development and address existing gaps in regulations and standards. They will also provide testing monitoring support to allow producers and processors to improve the quality of their output. The Food System Innovation Hubs will focus on accelerating technology transfer, and investment from the Global North to the Global South, enabling the kind of knowledge sharing that can contribute to increased standardization across borders.

Everyone benefits when food systems prioritize good health.
 

Food Systems Innovation Hubs are a bold, new initiative that will accelerate innovation, streamline processes, and support nature-positive, biodiverse agriculture to better nourish the nations and communities they serve.  Join us in this coordinated effort to improve the world’s food systems. We welcome you to bring your unique skills and resources to bear in helping solve these unique challenges.

Watch this engaging webinar discussing the importance of a Food Systems Innovation Hub and be part of the coordinated effort to improve the world’s food systems. Read further on the topic by clicking HERE