A consumer lobby group has cautiously welcomed the production of sugar fortified with Vitamin A but said more information should be made public.
The Consumer Federation of Kenya (Cofek) Tuesday termed the decision by Mumias Sugar to launch fortified sugar as “premature” because there is inadequate information concerning Vitamin A deficiency.
“While food fortification with Vitamin A is most cost-effective, it must be guided by some principles, standards, procedures and irreducible minimum factors,” Cofek said in a statement.
On Tuesday, some dieticians warned that nutrient was being put in inappropriate place.
“Refined sugar has no nutritive value apart from more calories. If this is not put forward appropriately to the consumers, we may see an increased consumption of sugar which is detrimental to health,” said Susan Musilu-Thinji of Bonsana Nutritions and Wellness.
Last week, Mumias Sugar launched the manufacture of sugar enriched with Vitamin A in what the firm said would help boost nutrient in children and reduce its deficiency, whose absence often leads to malnutrition.
Mumias Sugar managing director Evans Kidero said the new product will be helpful to the vulnerable population groups in Kenya by correcting and preventing micro-nutrient deficiencies, thus creating healthy and productive citizens.
According to the World Health Organisation Global Database on Vitamin A deficiency, the deficiency alone accounts for 670,000 childhood deaths each year and causes 350,000 cases of childhood blindness.
In Kenya, Vitamin A deficiency is a significant public health problem in Kenya with the group at highest risk being children aged between six to twenty three months with about 11 per cent of them being severely deficient.
A deficiency in Vitamin A could lead to a medical condition called Xerophthalmia in which the eye fails to produce tears. The nutrient occurs naturally in fruits and vegetables.
Kenya is however not the first country to fortify sugar with Vitamin A. In Swaziland and Zambia, reports indicate that the deficiencies have considerably gone down after fortified sugar was allowed.
Various other products are often fortified to improve their nutritional value. In Kenya, iodine is usually added to salt to help prevent goitre.
However, cofek demanded that Mumias Sugar reveals the source of the nutrient and that the company documents the deficiency scale in the country.
It is not clear whether the company would oblige as this information could be under its trade secrets.