The British Standards Institution (BSI) has published the first-ever international standard for nutrient-enriched (biofortified) grains, which will serve to identify these grains in the marketplace and spur increased trade. The Publicly Available Standard (PAS) 233 sets standards for the levels of zinc in wheat, rice, and maize grain, and is available free of charge from the BSI website.

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 is the technical author of the standard, and the content was developed through an international, multidisciplinary steering group comprised representatives from: from: the Bangladesh Food Safety Authority, BASF Corporation, Fera Science Ltd (Fera), the College of Science and Engineering of Flinders UniversityFood Fortification Advisory Services (2FAS), the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, the Food and Markets Department of the University of GreenwichHarvestPlusOLAM International, and the Sustainable Rice Platform. The experts included nutritionists, agronomists, policymakers, food industry buyers, analytical specialists from academia, the public sector, government, and the food industry.

Work has already begun on a second standard for iron-enriched beans and pearl millet, with publication expected by the end of 2021 (a draft iron standard is now available for open review and comment; follow this link to register on the BSI site, and log in to review and download the draft). Work on a standard for vitamin A-enriched cassava, maize, and sweet potato was scheduled to get under way in September 2021.  

“This is a great moment for biofortification. Now buyers can know what to demand when looking for higher zinc grains,” said Wolfgang Pfeiffer, director of Research and Development and regional director for Asia at HarvestPlus. “This standard will enable global and national trade and ensure the rapid scale-up of biofortified seeds, grains, and foods in commercial food systems.” 

Penjani Mkambula, global lead for Food Fortification at GAIN, said: “We are delighted to have enabled the creation and publication of this PAS through our partnership with HarvestPlus on the CBC Programme. This publication will be a lasting legacy to the partnership and helps fulfill our goals of breaking down barriers to commercialization. Most importantly, we hope this PAS can be adopted by governments and regional economic communities and be used in commercial transactions in global grain trade.”

The benefits of the zinc PAS will be communicated to market participants to facilitate its use by leading traders in the public and private sectors. One priority objective is to facilitate more public sector purchasing of nutrient-enriched grains, such as through school feeding programs and public distribution systems, as well as more trade by food producers and processors. For food processors, the PAS links to food labelling laws and regulations, making it easier to label foods and make nutrition and/or health claims to consumers. 

The PAS 233 will be successful when procurers of zinc-biofortified wheat, rice, or maize demand products that meet this standard. Having a clear reference point on which to base trade in these products is likely to generate more demand up and down the value chain, and among seed producers, growers, and food manufacturers. 

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. Standards allow for smooth transactions of goods, and ultimately protect the consumer.  

The Commercialisation of Biofortified Crops Programme addresses hidden hunger in Africa and Asia by significantly expanding the reach of nutrient-rich biofortified crops and foods to 190.6 million more consumers by 2022 and 571.8 million by 2028. Alongside national partners, the Programme is catalyzing commercial markets for biofortified staple crops and food products. The Programme is co-led by the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and HarvestPlus.