The Food Authority of India, FSSAI, has recently issued Direction stating that various Food Safety and Standards Regulations made under the FSS Act 2006 permit the use of iron (Fe) as food ingredient with or without having to mention the source of the iron.
Through the latest direction on this matter, FSSAI has clarified that ‘Heme Iron” will NOT be permitted as a source of Iron (Fe) in any form in any food product.
FSSAI has also instructed all Food Safety Commissioners in the States and Union Territories to keep a strict vigil to ensure and to enforce that Heme Iron is not being used in any foods as a source of Iron.
What is Heme Iron?
Iron availability is different in animal and plant based foods. In animal foods, the iron is attached to animal proteins which are called Heme proteins and are therefore called Heme iron. This is not the case for plant based foods. However, there are studies that show that Heme iron increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer and metabolic syndrome.
Non-Heme iron is plant based and is derived from foods like beans, spinach, nuts and dried fruit, certain seeds, etc. Non-Heme iron or vegetable and plant based iron does not increase the risk of heart disease no matter the level of the iron absorbed. This is because the body can regulate iron absorption and takes only the required amount of iron.
While iron-deficiency in India is a well-established fact and is a big public concern, the risk of diseases associated with the consumption of Heme-Iron cannot be overlooked in any way. Moreover, Heme-iron is sourced from animal meats, fish and poultry and so it cannot be permitted for use in articles of food as there are many people who are vegetarian. Since it is not mandatory to mention the source of the Iron (Fe) on all food labels, consumers would not be able to know whether it is animal based or plant based, prior to the introduction of the restriction to use Heme-Iron.