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Pakistan Officials Endorse New Standards for Trade in Zinc-enriched Wheat Grain

22 April 2022, Pakistan: Pakistani government officials have voiced strong endorsement for a new standard for zinc-enriched wheat grains that was developed through the Commercialisation of Biofortified Crops (CBC) Programme. The officials urged wheat value chain actors to apply the standards in practice and called on Pakistani regulators to adopt these standards through their due procedures.

The officials were speaking at a virtual workshop on March 30, “End to end standards and regulations for the zinc wheat value chain,” which was organized by the CBC Programme. The workshop was held to inform Pakistani wheat value chain actors about standards and food labelling regulations, their importance for commercialization, and how they benefit the food supply chain. In particular, presenters shared a regulatory framework analysis for food labelling and marketing provisions for biofortified and fortified foods in Pakistan, and gave examples from other countries of labelling for foods made with zinc wheat.

The CBC Programme is co-led by HarvestPlus and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and is funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development and the Government of the Netherlands. As part of the CBC Programme, HarvestPlus worked with British Standards Institute (BSI) and an expert group to develop zinc Publically Available Specifications (PAS) for zinc enriched grain. The BSI published the zinc PAS in June 2021.

“We understand that the zinc grain standards for trade are important to increase micronutrient intake and will bring sustainability to the efforts made for biofortification of crops. We shall continue supporting the work on biofortification for end-to-end value chain standards and regulations,” said Dr Khawaja Masuood Ahmed, National Coordinator for Nutrition and National Fortification Alliance at the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination, who spoke at the virtual event.

Dr. Javed Ahmad, Director of the Wheat Research Institute at the Ayub Agricultural Research Institute in Faisalabad, said, “I appreciate HarvestPlus for their efforts in development and introduction of the zinc PAS as a global standard for biofortified wheat grain. As a next step, it is important that [the Pakistani] Government should incorporate PAS in to the regulatory system.” In the meantime, he urged the private sector to start using the PAS right away “in their procurement of grain, and we all need to advocate and encourage the early adopters in this regard.”

Endorsement of the zinc grain PAS by these and other key officials is likely to motivate Pakistani regulatory bodies to incorporate this globally available standard into national regulations governing wheat grain trade, and encourage value chain actors to apply it. Commonly accepted standards are essential to develop confidence among market participants in the identity and quality of biofortified products, and to allow them to differentiate biofortified products from non-biofortified counterparts.

At the virtual workshop, Imtiaz Muhammad, HarvestPlus CBC team lead in Pakistan, explained that research and development efforts by HarvestPlus with Pakistani government partners has led to the release of three high zinc varieties so far: Zincol-16, Akbar-19, and Nawab-21, with several more high-zinc candidate lines in the pipeline. While the products are in strong demand, there is a need to further strengthen the zinc wheat value chain to readily reach consumers.

The workshop organizers also announced the publication of an e-book which is a CBC guide on labelling and marketing provisions for fortified and biofortified foods in Pakistan, to help traders properly market such products in packaging, ingredient information, and other aspects.

Jenny Walton, Senior Specialist for Demand Creation and Business Development at HarvestPlus, said, “End to end standards and regulations for the zinc wheat value chain are an important step to creating an enabling environment for commercialization. The value chain actors and buyers need standards to ensure that suppliers at all stages are providing valid products. The standards create a level playing field in the trade, help document the transactions, support traceability and ultimately protect consumer with supply of safe and nutritious food.” Under the CBC Programme, BSI has also published a PAS for iron enriched grains, and a PAS for vitamin A enriched grains is soon to come.

Dr. M. Govindaraj, Senior Scientist for Breeding with HarvestPlus India, spoke about breeding standards for zinc-biofortified wheat. He said that zinc content targets were designed to meet the nutritional requirements in a population (largely women and young children) for a measurable health impact. These targets are calculated on the typical daily intake of a given staple and the amount of nutrients required to achieve adequate micronutrient intake.

Munawar Hussain, a consultant with HarvestPlus Pakistan, explained that the global PAS is not a legally binding standard, but it can be used immediately by buyers as a requirement for the products they purchase. He noted that global average baseline level of zinc in non-biofortified wheat is 25 mg/kg, the same as it is in Pakistan. The incremental target above the baseline for the level of zinc in biofortified wheat is +12 mg/kg. This makes the PAS ideal for Pakistan, and it doesn’t need any local modifications for use, he said.

Shamsher Khan of Post-Harvest Consulting (PHC) shared a situation analysis of labelling regulations and existing food regulatory systems pertaining to fortified and biofortified foods. He said that multiple organizations are involved in food licencing and enforcement of standards and regulations in Pakistan. He also introduced the guidebook developed with the support of HarvestPlus, explaining that it will help food producers to properly label fortified and biofortified crops and foods, and act as a guide regarding labelling and standards for processing and packaging zinc-biofortified foods.

Patience Mukweza, a consultant working with CBC in Zimbabwe, shared examples of successful branding and labelling of biofortified foods. She mentioned the labels follow Pakistani and international food laws (CODEX laws). Imtiaz Muhammad, HarvestPlus CBC team lead in Pakistan, gave the closing remarks, thanking the speakers and participants with expectations that all value chain actors will work together to promote the standard.

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