A fresh round of increases in the prices of essential commodities is in the offing, this time driven by a new requirement that processed foods must contain a minimum content of vitamins and minerals.
Manufacturers said they were ready to comply with the directive issued by the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs), but warned that the additional cost would be borne by consumers.
“The new vitamins and minerals will be procured at a cost, which means the retail price of products will be slightly higher than they are at the moment,” said Rajul Malde, the Pwani Oil general manager.
The new rules by the Public Health and Sanitation ministry seek to raise the level of essential nutrients in key staples.
However, they are likely to push up the prices of flour and cooking oil through the additional cost of raising the levels of essential nutrients.
Amendments to the Food, Drugs and Chemical Substances (Food Labelling, Additives and Standards) Regulations 2012 gazetted two weeks ago were meant to promote uptake of vitamins and minerals, alleviating malnutrition in food-deficient regions.
The rules require manufacturers to add folate, vitamins, iron and zinc in their flour and cooking fats through a genetic manipulation process called “food bio-fortification” up to levels specified by Kebs.
Until now, manufacturers had the choice of whether to fortify their products and what level of new ingredients to include.
“It is now mandatory that all cooking fat, maize and wheat flour produced after the gazette notice be fortified,” Patricia Kimanthi, the Kebs corporate communications manager, said on Friday. She said comments from another Kebs official last week that the fortification was optional were erroneous.
Concentrates of vitamins and minerals (normally called feed pre-mixes) are usually imported and their prices will be dictated to by international market trends.
At factory level, the wheat flour will now have to contain Vitamin A of up to 3 milligram/kg, Vitamin B1 of up to 15mg/kg, vitamin B2 of 9mg/kg, Vitamin B6 of 10mg/kg and iron of 60mg/kg for wheat.
Likewise, maize flour must have Vitamin A of up to one milligram/kg, Vitamin A1 of up to six milligrams/kg, B2 of up to 5mg/kg, and B3 of up to 30mg/kg. Others per kilogram are folate (up to2.5 mg), vitamin B6 (7.5mg), B12 (0.01mg), iron (30mg) and zinc (40mg).
“Obviously, fortification is done at additional cost, but it is an internationally recognised way of dealing with nutritional diseases which are common at public hospitals and are expensive to treat,” said Gladys Mugambi, the deputy head of nutrition in the Public Health ministry.
In the 2011/12 Budget, the Treasury scrapped the 10 per cent import duty on feed pre-mixes after their cost went up by 600 per cent in the international market, raising the cost of milk and meat.
While the duty removal led to a drop in the cost of concentrates of vitamins, proteins and minerals to levels ranging from Sh100 to Sh600 per kilogramme, manufacturers did not reduce their prices.
“Generally, the impact of changes in the price of concentrates is negligible on the final feed prices because we use on average of 2kg of pre-mixes for every tonne of feed produced,” Joseph Karuri, the chairman of the Animal Feed Manufacturers Association, said at the time.
Although the concentrates will also form a small portion of human food, producers of food supplements have traditionally relied on the presence of essential minerals in products to charge higher prices.
The government has been campaigning to raise the level of essential nutrients in basic foodstuff since a 1999 survey conducted by two UN agencies - the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) – showed they were lacking in national diet.
Consumer price index
Food and non-alcoholic drinks comprise 60 per ceent of the basket of items that the government uses every month to calculate the consumer price index, implying a likely surge in inflation.
For instance, the drop in Food and Non Alcoholic drinks’ index by 1.91 per cent between May and June helped to pull down the overall inflation rate for the month of June to 10.05 per cent, down from 12.22 per cent in May.