GAIN Premix Facility with Intertek's Assurance in Action Podcast

1 June 2022 - 

Hello and welcome. You are listening to Assurance and Action, the podcast of your total quality assurance provider Intertek. Today, I am joined by Intertek’s Sandra Meixner, the Global Programme Manager for ATEC Food Authenticity Services, Britta Bellersen, Team Leader of Supply Chain Management and Food Services and Gerhard Rimkus, Senior Food Consultant. 

And we're talking to David Morgan, Senior Technical Specialist for Quality and Safety at GAIN, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition.

And we're talking to David Morgan, Senior Technical Specialist for Quality and Safety at GAIN, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition. Does everyone want to go around and introduce themselves?

David Morgan: Thank you. Yes, I'm David Morgan and I'm a food technologist working with GAIN, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition. And I've been working here since 2014 and my background is in the food industry. 

Sandra Meixner: Thank you, David. Well, my name is Sandra Meixner. I'm a state certified food chemist and I was the first contact point for the GAIN Premix Facility at Intertek in 2010.

Britta Bellersen: My name is Britta. I'm a food technologist too. I worked for Intertek since 2017 and I became the Programme Manager for the GAIN Premix Facility in 2017. 

Gerhard Rimkus: I am Gerhard Rimkus. I am a chemist and working for Intertek Pool Services as the Senior Consultant and Project Manager since, eight years.

SM: Great. Thank you. Um, so David, what is GAIN? 

DM: So GAIN, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition: We are a not-for-profit foundation, headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, and established in 2002. And our purpose is to tackle malnutrition, which we do by transforming food systems in low-and-middle-income-countries. And we do that by working with governments, international agencies, NGO’s and the private sector. And that includes Intertek, who we partner with. And we employ around 150 people located in over 15 countries. And we have established country offices in Asia; so that's in Bangladesh, in India, Indonesia, and Pakistan.

And in Africa; Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Mozambique, Tanzania. And then we also have representative offices in Geneva, Switzerland, in the UK, in the USA, and in the Netherlands. And the way we operate is with donor funding. And that comes from philanthropic organizations, including the Bill and Melinda Gates FoundationCIFF, which is the The Children's Investment Fund Foundation, and a number of other philanthropic organizations.

We have Governmental Foreign Aid from the USA, from the Netherlands, from the UK, Canada, Denmark, and a number of other countries. And then we have UN agency funding, including UNICEF and World Food Programme and funding from other charitable organizations, including GiveWell Foundation

GAIN is focused on alleviating malnutrition. And just to be clear, that's not working directly with communities suffering from acute malnutrition in emergency situations, in response to conflict or drought or flooding or other disasters, because there are situations which are for specialist organizations, such as UN agencies, Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) Red CrossRed Crescent

So GAIN’s focus is more on the underlying changes to strengthen food systems. And our goal is to improve the consumption of nutritious and safe foods for all people, specifically targeting a billion people with major improvements to food systems, working across the food value chain and, just to capture our work streams, or some of our work streams: we have large-scale food fortification, which we'll come back to. And that's about improving the consumption of adequately fortified, staple foods. Staple foods: typically being flour and maize meal, oil, salt, rice, and some others.

Appropriate diets for women and children, which is finding sustainable ways to improve diet and nutritional content. We have a work stream on workplace nutrition, working with employers and employees to strengthen knowledge of nutritious foods and accessing them at the marketplace for nutritious foods. And that's looking at food supply systems for small and medium sized enterprises, post-harvest loss, healthy food choices for adolescents. We have a work stream on innovative finance, and the way we work there is to connect finance institutions with food businesses. Also in urban nutrition, focusing on rapidly urbanized environments and adapting the food value chains. And then we also work a lot with knowledge dissemination.

We're currently co-hosting the Second Global Summit on food fortification, a series of events with co-hosts The Micronutrient ForumHarvestPlus. Also, GAIN is organizing side events at the Tokyo Nutrition for Growth Summit

Just for those who are not sure what large scale food fortification is. So, this is focused on activities to make staple foods more nutritious, and that's largely, not entirely, but largely industrial food fortification. And this takes place mostly under mandatory legislation, where there are laws in place to say that if these staple foods are produced, then micronutrients are added.

And this is typically to replace missing micronutrients, which are missing from the diet or missing from the food where they're processed and are no longer there. So, The food vehicles for those micronutrients are chosen appropriately. So for flour and maize meal, that's wheat flour and maize meal, zinc and iron are typically added, also some B vitamins, folic acid, B12, and others. Sometimes fat-soluble vitamins as well. And in oil, fat soluble vitamins are always added. Vitamin A sometimes, also D, and occasionally vitamin E as well. Salt is a good vehicle for iodine. So salt iodization is the most successful of all the large scale food fortification programmes globally. Vitamin A and sugar, and then others, including milk, rice, condiments, which includes soy and fish sauce. 

So I'm part of the large-scale food fortification team. And more specifically, I'm also very closely involved with, with the GAIN Premix Facility. 

SM: So the Premixed Facility involves Intertek. So, how did that begin? And what everybody is working on there?

DM: In response to increasing demand for fortified food production, the food producers, it was recognized that they need affordable premix of reliable quality. Premix being the micronutrients, which are added to the fortified food vehicle. And, in most lower-income countries, these fortificants are not produced and they're imported and they may not be available, and they may be very expensive and the quality may be questionable or unknown.

So in 2009, GAIN created what we now call the GAIN Premix Facility or the GPF. And essentially that created a quality assured list of suppliers. And that's now grown to 55 sites at the latest count, across 18 countries. And that includes a number of categories. So, we have premixed blends, Vitamin A, micronutrient powders, which are sachets for home fortification, potassium iodine, which is a source of ideas for sole fortification. And essentially we publish that list, and we put that in the public space, and there are two benefits from that: Firstly, any food producer can access that list of quality assured suppliers and they can buy directly from them, and then GAIN approval is also recognized by UN agencies.

So, the World Food Program requires that all of their fortified food products use premix from a GAIN approved source. And the second important point is that we run a procurement platform and we work with a quality assured list of suppliers. So if a food producer or a government agency needs a supply of micronutrients for national fortification or industrial fortification of foods, then they can approach the GAIN Premix Facility. We can float a tender to request the supplies they need. We float that with all of our approved suppliers. And the best offer is presented to the client and then we supply. 

Now, the way the transaction works is that GAIN would buy the premix from the premix producer. And we supply to the client and that then allows us to offer credit terms, because that's further help to food producers. And we do that through the, what we call the revolving fund, which is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. So we can take from that fund, use that to pay for the credit we pay for the premix. And then if the food producer has been granted special credit terms, then we can use that fund to pay for that. Now I mentioned that we were established in 2009 and it was just after that in 2010, when we started the collaboration and partnership with Intertek. 

SM: Can we speak a little more about Intertek's role and what they're main tasks are? 

DM: Sure, yeah. So we need to assess an audit and re-audit currently 55 producer sites in 18 countries. And we can't do that with our own team. And that's the way that we work in GAIN. We partner with organisations so that we can expand and leverage the resources we have available to us. So we look to work with a specialist organisation and we reviewed in 2010, a number of specialists, service providers.We selected Intertek's food services based on their ability to conduct food safety audits, and also their knowledge and capability and testing fortificants and fortified foods. And that testing is conducted in Braman, in Northern Germany. So that partnership has changed over the period and now focuses primarily on fortified foods testing, including the micronutrients and the foods themselves, as well as supplier audits and the management of those supply audits. So every consignment of micronutrients, which gained suppliers to industry that will be tested by Intertek. Currently Interek is also testing a large quantity of fortified foods from a number of countries to assess the status of those fortification in market samples. So, that includes salt and flour and oil and sugar. So, its audit services and food testing services are the primary areas where we collaborate. Yeah. I think that shows the learning curve that we've gone through together.

BB: David, I think I remember the first days in 2010, when we started with the testing and the vitamin testing was not so easy. It's not just a routine thing, especially from all the different companies. But I think over the years we've developed this program really good (sic). And I'm really glad to test now also the end products that go to the consumers too, to be sure that they really reached them.

DM: Yeah. Micronutrient testing really is a specialised area, partly because of the matrix that's there. The low level of these micronutrients, and a number of other factors. And I don't know if you have a comment on that Gerhard? 

GR: Well, thank you, David. Yes. Micronutrients, the vitamin A testing is very complex, and also for the metals, mainly for iron and zinc.So, I am, since seven years (sic) performing for GAIN,  lab assessments in many African and Asian countries to evaluate in the labs the ability to test  micronutrients in the fortified food of the country. And to see the status quo and to see their accreditation, whether they are accredited or not. And then to give recommendations to GAIN for improving the situation in these labs. That they can also do the testing of their national food, fortified food, to build the capacity of the labs and to also give them some training, or to support them with equipment. 

And, so this is, I think also more and more, now last year's focus of GAIN, that also the national labs will be capable for this testing. But as said, up to now, most of these market samples, these fortified foods are tested  by Intertek and Braman. 

DM: Yes. It's certainly a part of what we do and focus on in GAIN, to strengthen national laboratories, particularly National regulatory laboratories because that's part of the regulatory and enforcement monitoring and enforcement process in a country.

So, our ultimate aim is to become redundant of course, but we're some way off that and we simply can't stand still. So we have to have to innovate, and this all will require continued input. Building capacity of laboratories, particularly regulatory laboratories and supporting industry to access quality assured micronutrients and improve the level of control over fortification.

So, and I think expanding the GAIN Premix Facility to include new categories of premix which we've done in the last two years. Two examples of this is fortified rice kernels, that's  in the scheme of things, a relatively new type of pre-mix, and that's necessary for the way that rice is being fortified. And then also there's a specific one for India, which is a type of encapsulated iron, encapsulated ferrous fumarate, which is used in double fortified salt, which is salt, which is both iodized and enriched with iron, and that all of those revised specialised in reliable testing as well.

BB: And what I really like about this is it shows that it requires all the different efforts. So it's not only about testing, but it's also, well, the processing itself, the technology that you have to have the knowledge all around it, the support inspections that need to be done. And of course the quality controls locally to improve that to a level that the countries can do that by themselves.

And the situation, this may be nearly different in each country, so it could be different in China and in India, if you want to order, for example, fortified rice corner. So the fortification level in the different countries could be different and the technologists as well. Very much so.

DM: But we supply a number of pre-mix blends in the GAIN Premix Facility. And for each one of those, we need to develop a product specification standard. So, on a national level that specification would be standardised, but then on an international level. It can be very different from maybe the only common thing for something like fortified flour.

Although there are exceptions to this, iron would be present. Then the finished product standard would be different right across almost from every country. 

BB: Maybe we can talk about the programmes which (were) established in the in countries like Nigeria? That you make some market assessments to improve the situation there, to get more knowledge about the markets and so on?

DM: So, one of the things that GAIN does and has done, is conduct market assessments to establish the status of food fortification in (and) across the country or across a region. That looks at the effectiveness, because taking samples from industry is only one way of assessing the situation and taking market samples and home samples that's another way. And so it's the whole picture, which then adds up to the status of understanding the level of food fortification. So, that is an important thing that we are working on. There was an interesting development in the last year, which was a method development. I wonder if Gerhard could say something about this? This is the method that Intertech developed and you worked with GAIN and our support to publish that. 

GR: Thank you, David. Yes, the vitamin E analyzes especially in edible oil is a very complex, and edible oil in many, many countries is fortified by Vitamin A or the new permutate, which is most of the countries also mandatory and so most of the labs, it’s usually easier using, (inaudible..), which is very complex, time consuming, a lot of solvents and so on. And this method is not very reliable. And so Intertek, the laboratory developed a simple method an HPLC method for the analyses, which is very reliable, we could show it also in comparison exercises.

This method is now accredited also in the Braman laboratory. And so GAIN supported now that this message is published in an international journal. So it is open access to everybody. And so everybody can take over this method. And in the second step we also did an exercise with selected laboratories in four countries in Bangladesh, India, Ethiopia and Nigeria.

To support them to develop this method also in their own laboratories and to validate, then the method and the final goal should be then that this method is also in these national laboratories, accredited. So that was an exercise over the last months. The problem was that of course, due to the pandemic situation, that we could not support directly on the spot. So it was only by email and by video calls and so on. But several laboratories were very successful and they were very happy that they could do the... Supported by me, with this development of this method. And this will be a great help, I think for these the labs who joined the project. 

DM: It's certainly, it will be very useful for laboratories and oil producers. In some cases, they have been using the, what we call the traditional method, which uses some quantification and to use this new method, if this can be adopted, then that can produce more reliable results. It's simpler, it's quicker. So there are a lot of benefits to be had from laboratories using that published method, which is specifically related to retinol palmitate in, in fortified oil.

GG: Yes and GAIN support at these labs also with some chemicals and so on, which were needed for the method. So this support is also a benefit for these labs. 

SM: Thank you all for joining me today and thank you for listening to Assurance and Action. If you would like to learn more, please check out the links in the description of this podcast.

Also, please give our subscription a rate and a follow, and don't forget to like us on LinkedIn. Thanks again and have a great day!