The forum, organised by the Flour Fortification Initiative (FFI), was attended by high level executives from the interational milling industry, organisations such as the Micronutrient Initiative and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), as well as university academics.
The initiative is working to make fortification of flour with micronutrients a standard practice around the world but it still faces considerable lack of support from many governments.
However many other barriers to successful fortification programmes are being slowly overcome, according to Max Blum, scientific expert at DSM Nutritional Products, who was present at the briefing.
"These projects have been lagging for several years and needed a new start. The first FFI meeting two years ago saw the participation of the millers and really got private sector stakeholders talking about the issue. Fortification cannot be done without the private sector," Blum told NutraIngredients.com.
The FFI, headed by Professor Glen Maberly based at Emory University in the US, has as a result raised the profile of fortification in an industry that tends to be local rather than multinational.
"Since talking to the millers seriously about this issue, they seem very motivated and really want to contribute."
Blum suggested that a growing emphasis on the health benefits of foods, and raised awareness of the huge impact of fortification on prevention of birth defects, has significantly motivated the industry.
"The food industry has after all got a broad social responsibility to provide good, affordable food. Being able to help prevent spina bifida is a big motivation for the millers. Ultimately it is to the health benefit of the population," he added.
Cost and technical issues still present concerns for the industry. Flour fortification means buying nutrients, new equipment, further testing and quality control, and marketing spend. With little government support, both the private sector and consumers must bear some of these additional costs.
But better dissemination of technical expertise across borders and increased knowledge about fortification could help to reduce some of these costs and make the process more efficient.
"We have learned that you need to look at the specific needs in each country. Fortification must be approached in a given context, flanked by cultural means," said Blum.
Governments are not always willing to participate in fortification programmes but major campaigns launched by charities such as Unicef and the WHO have significantly raised the visibility of the need for such policies. The charities have also sought to emphasise the economic impact.
Speaking at this year's World Economic Forum, current chair of GAIN Jay Naidoo, also chairman of the board of the Development Bank of Southern Africa, said that if wheat flour was fortified in the 75 most needy countries with iron and folic acid, iron deficiency could be reduced by 10 per cent, and birth defects could be lowered by a third.
Such fortification would cost a total of about $85 million, or about 4 cents per person, he said.
"As a result, we estimate these countries would gain $275 million in increased productivity and $200 million from the enhanced earning potential," Naidoo claimed. "There are many other examples to emphasize that public-private partnerships to invest in food fortification are investments not only in health, but also in national economies."
Also, recent report from the Copenhagen Consensus, a panel of eight of the world's most distinguished economists, included fortification programmes as one of its top priorities for facing global challenges.
Governments cannot ignore such data for long and increasing involvement from industry could in the long-run benefit society, economies and industrytoo.