After temporarily lifting the country’s mandatory wheat flour fortification requirement in March 2020, Indonesia’s Ministry of Industries has passed legislation reinstating it. The new law, which takes effect this month, also imposes stricter guidelines on which iron compound can be used.

Every year, 5.8 million metric tons of fortified wheat flour are produced in the country and consumed daily in the form of noodles, bakery products, biscuits and processed food. Large-scale wheat flour fortification helps fight hidden hunger and facilitates coverage for a larger section of the population, particularly those living in poverty. This is particularly important in a country like Indonesia, which suffers from a high prevalence of anaemia. Around 49% of pregnant women, and one in four adolescents in the country are anaemic.

“It gives us immense pleasure to witness the reinstatement of mandatory wheat flour fortification with revised guidelines,” said Sri Kusyuniati, Country Director, Nutrition International Indonesia. “Nutrition International applauds the Indonesian government on this new legislation, which will ensure the entire population, particularly those living in vulnerable situations, have access to critical micronutrients.”

Since 2017, Nutrition International has worked closely with the Government of Indonesia to strengthen the national wheat flour fortification program by providing evidence-based recommendations for aligning flour fortification standards to global best practices, improving legislation on food fortification, supporting its implementation, and ensuring quality control and quality assurance in the industry. In addition, Nutrition International has been advocating for the adoption of new flour fortification standards which use more effective bio-available iron compounds.

With the COVID-19 outbreak creating challenges for the import of premix, the government had relaxed the rules for fortification. However, organizations supporting fortification in Indonesia, including Nutrition International, came together to advocate for the steady production of fortified wheat flour and enforcement of stronger laws, guaranteeing the optimum nutrient value in fortified flour.

The new law strengthens fortification standards, which will benefit those who consume inexpensive wheat flour. The original law included no specification about the type of iron compound to be used for fortification, leaving many wheat millers to use the cheapest type of iron with low bioavailability, which did not have a significant impact on reducing iron-deficiency anaemia among the population. The new law is aligned with World Health Organization recommendations and mandates the use of bioavailable iron, such as ferrous fumarate, ferrous sulphate or ferric sodium EDTA (ethylenediaminetetraacetate) for fortification.

“Recognizing the potential of fortifying staple foods, the Government of Indonesia made fortification of wheat flour with iron, zinc, folic acid, and vitamins B1 and B2 mandatory in 2002,” said Ms. Ria Eriandi, Head of Food Crop Product Processing Industry, Sub Directorate, Ministry of Industries, Government of Indonesia. “In the early days of COVID-19, we were forced by market conditions to alter the law due to restricted imports of the fortifying premix. We are proud that the mandatory regulation has been reinstated with revised guidelines, which is significant to improve the health of our citizens. We thank Nutrition International for their regular support in this journey.”

For Indonesia, which is experiencing the triple burden of malnutrition, food fortification presents as a low-cost scalable intervention that can deliver essential nutrients in widely consumed staple foods, improving the health and immunity of much of the population without direct contact. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this is more critical than ever.