Enabling Trade in Iron-enriched Beans and Pearl Millets
Dr. Tora Mitra Ganguli
December 8, 2021

On December 2nd 2021, the British Standards Institution (BSI) published the Publicly Available Standard (PAS) 234 for levels of iron in beans and pearl millets. This international standard for nutrient-enriched (biofortified) grains, available free of charge from the BSI website, is second in a series of three international standards that will enable grain trade on a global scale. Publication of these standards are a major milestone in scaling up  nutrient-enriched grains and foods, culminating from almost two decades of research and development in biofortification, including research on efficacy, effectiveness, and acceptability of biofortified crops

The PAS was sponsored by the Commercialization of Biofortified Crops (CBC) Programme, which is a partnership between the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and HarvestPlus, with funding from Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. Its development was facilitated by BSI Standards Limited and it was published under license from the British Standards Institution. 

HarvestPlus and Dr. Tora Mitra Ganguli are the technical authors of the standard, and the content was developed through an international, multidisciplinary steering group comprising of representatives from: the Food Fortification Advisory Services (2FAS)Food and Markets Department, University of GreenwichGlobal Alliance for Improved Nutrition (Tanzania)HarvestPlus, Julian Smith (Consultant), Kenya Agricultural and Livestock OrganizationKenya Ministry of AgricultureMichigan State UniversitySmartFoodUnited States Department of Agriculture and Washington State University. The experts included nutritionists, agronomists, policymakers, food analytical specialists from academia, the public sector, government, and the food industry.

Iron deficiency is one of the most common micronutrient deficiencies in the world. Among young children and women of reproductive age, iron deficiency is a major contributor to anemia. Although several factors determine the amount of iron absorbed by the body from iron-enriched crops, research has shown that regular consumption of these crops can improve cognitive function and work performance of adolescents and young women.

Work is already under way on the third and final PAS for vitamin A grains, with the expert international steering group set to meet in January 2022. Publication is expected in July 2022 and will cover maize, cassava and sweet potato. The first PAS 233 sets standards for the levels of zinc in wheat, rice, and maize grain, and is also available free of charge from the BSI website.

The PAS 234 will be successful when procurers of iron-biofortified beans or pearl millets demand products that meet this standard. To generate the awareness and build the demand during trading, the benefits of the iron PAS will be communicated to stakeholders in public and private sectors across various markets. HarvestPlus is striving to empower the small, medium and large sized organizations in the private sector, the public sector (such as public grain procurement and distribution programs), and the humanitarian agencies (such as the World Food Program), with information to use and specifically quote the PAS when demanding nutrient-enriched grains.  The PAS links to food labelling laws and regulations, making it easier to label foods and communicate nutrition and/or health claims to consumers. This opens up a huge opportunity for food producers and processors to procure nutrient-enriched grains for product innovations.

There is a bigger impact of the PAS beyond trading of grains and food manufacturing. Having a clear reference point on which to base trade in nutrient-enriched grains is likely to generate more demand up and down the value chain, and among seed producers and growers. As the nutrient levels set for grains are the same levels required for breeding and seed standards, having these specifications globally validated and published will pave the way for further policy, regulation and standards in setting for minimum levels for breeding standards. Standards allow for smooth transactions of goods, and ultimately protect the consumer.  Purchasers look to standards to ensure that suppliers are providing valid products and services. Standards are essential for buyers to know what they are getting and to document transactions so that users further along the value chain know where their product has originated.  

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