China has managed to fill peoples' stomachs, but many people don't get enough vitamins and minerals. Over the past decade, China's leadership embarked on the next stage in food policy by formulating plans to improve the population's diet quality.
There has been a national nutritional improvement project since 1995. In 2001, an “Outline for China’s Food and Nutrition Development for 2001-2010” was formulated and a National Nutritional Improvement and Development Center was set up under the powerful National Development and Reform Commission. [Ironically, my computer detected a virus when I visited the nutrition center's web site just now...computer health is a separate issue...] Wen Jiabao launched an “Advance Public Nutrition Improvement Activity” in 2006 as part of the 11th five-year plan.
According to an interview with a Professor Yu Xiaodong on the nutrition improvement center's web site, the Chinese public generally lacks iron, zinc, and calcium, vitamins A, B1, and B2, folic acid, nicotinic acid and other micronutrients. Currently the only nutritionally-fortified foods widely used are infant food supplements and enhanced [iodized?] salt. The Professor says that fortified and functional foods account for 70%-80% of the food market in the United States but only 5% in China.
Fortified flour was the first product to be promoted in 2001. The fortified food strategic plan includes flour, rice, infant formula, edible oil, salt, and soy sauce. Now officials are stepping up their advocacy of fortified foods. Earlier this year a campaign to promote fortified rice was initiated with a State Council Press Conference in Beijing to be followed by a series of province-level campaigns over three years in Henan, Fujian, Sichuan, and Guangdong.
This campaign, in typical style, features government-sponsored associations working with companies and community organizations to promote fortified rice. The 3-hour press conference explained the benefits of fortified foods and standards, then presented awards to Beijing's first set of fortified rice-selling companies. It also described "donations" of fortified rice to China's Red Cross and a donation of rice to an international school in Beijing. The school program's slogan, "Balanced Diet, Smart Growth," appears to be calculated to appeal to Chinese parents' obsession with producing a smart kid. Also explained was a strategy of setting up "Beijing Healthy Family Unions."
Professor Yu cites high prices as the main constraint on the spread of nutritionally-fortified rice. He says that companies typically use expensive high-grade rice for fortified products, which costs more and discourages many people from buying it. He says that, after learning this fact, "we need to coordinate with companies" to recognize the diverse demands of consumers and offer fortified products that use lower-grade rice that will appeal to price-sensitive consumers.
Professor Yu says the market for fortified foods will grow as peoples' living standards rise and they become more aware of nutritional issues. But of course, he says, the industry needs guidance on policy and technology in order to help achieve real improvements in the public's health.