Conrad Mwanawashe Court Reporter—
THE Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe (GMAZ) has filed an application at the High Court seeking to block Government from implementing mandatory food fortification.In the case filed yesterday by GMAZ deputy national chairman Thembinkosi Ndlovu, millers want sections 4 (i) (b) and (e), 5 (b) and (e) and 7 of the Food Fortification Regulations 2016 purportedly made under and in terms of the Food and Food Standards Act (Chapter 15:0 4) set aside.
Millers argue the requirements are unreasonable and as a consequence, invalid. Health and Child Care Minister Dr David Parirenyatwa, cited as the respondent in the matter in his official capacity, has 10 days to respond. In the court papers, Ndlovu said the application was brought on the basis that the food fortification regulations were grossly unreasonable and defy logic.
“In addition and in light of the foregoing, applicant (GMAZ) submits that the regulations are ultra vires the enabling Act to the extent that Parliament never contemplated, in promulgating the enabling Act, to give respondent such powers, the exercise of which would expose them to the odium of administrative law principles,” said Ndlovu.
The Ministry of Health and Child Care had set July 1 as the commencement date of mandatory food fortification of selected food vehicles such as vegetable oils, sugar, wheat, flour and commercially milled maize meal.
The Government said it was cognisant of the primacy of disease prevention as opposed to curing and in particular the adverse results of growth retardation in children, low birth weight, reduced cognitive development, the increased risk of under — five mortality and reduced economic productivity emanating from failure to prevent micro-nutrient deficiency.
Government, through the Ministry of Health and Child Care, said prevalence of micro-nutrient deficiencies were extremely high and unacceptable especially among vulnerable groups including women of child bearing age and children.
In a letter to GMAZ dated June 6, Dr Parirenyatwa said 72 percent of children aged 9-59 months were iron deficient, while 32 percent were anaemic according to the previous National Micronutrient Survey.
He said 26 percent of women of child-bearing age (15-49 years) were anaemic and 62 percent were iron deficient, which results in poor birth outcomes and vast economic losses.
Also 24 percent of women of child-bearing age (15-49 years) were vitamin A deficient and nine percent were night blind. This is linked to an eminent problem of poor vision among the population justifying the need for Vitamin A fortified staples. Dr Parirenyatwa said the ministry was open to negotiations on the importance of the initiative to address these gross micronutrient deficiencies.
But GMAZ argued that given the dismissive attitude by the Minister, it is clear that nothing is to be gained for further engagement, forcing them to resort to court action. Furthermore, Ndlovu argued that there will be massive foreign currency outlay to be compliant.
“Studies conducted by the applicant show that $14,8 million is required to buy machinery and a further $7,25 million is required to purchase fortificants every month.
“As matters stand, more than $34,7 million is required by members of the association to pay for the wheat imported in the 2016 season. While applicant’s members have the necessary bank balances to pay the sum outstanding, the relevant Nostro currency has simply not been obtained. Everything is conditional upon the availability of Nostro currency and it is an open secret that the republic is facing serious challenges in that regard,” said Ndlovu.
He further argued that the Ministry came up with the capital intensive programme without making any provision for millers to access the funds required for machinery and the fortificants.
“Further, given that the regulations threaten the viability of companies, which were already operating lawfully, there can be no doubt that both their promulgation and application should have been preceded by very wide consultations. There was nothing of the sort despite respondent’s desultory attempts to portray a contrary picture in certain correspondence. I dare him to gainsay this and to do so under oath,” said Ndlovu.
In earlier communication, Dr Parirenyatwa said the ministry and development partners have conducted nationwide sensitization programmes on National Food Fortification Programme up to district and ward levels through the Food and Nutrition Security Committees.
“We have been conducting sensitization activities to the public on this programme through radio, television and public gatherings. “To improve on consumer awareness the Ministry has initiated a dedicated mass campaign on Food Fortification to educate the public on the programme in June and July,” said Dr Parirenyatwa. The matter is yet to be set down.