The UN's children agency warned Friday that a move by Indonesian authorities to relax mandatory fortification of wheat flour could put the health of Indonesian women and children at risk.
A flour fortification programme in Indonesia started in the early 1980s and is today practised in more than 50 nations. Iron, zinc, thiamine, riboflavin and folic acid are typically added.
Indonesia's ministry of industry lifted a 2001 law on the mandatory fortification of all flour traded in the world's fourth most populous nation last month in a bid to reduce the market price of flour, UNICEF said.
The move would permit the importation of unfortified wheat flour, despite fortification being the cheapest and most sustainable way of addressing malnutrition, it said in a statement.
"The cost of fortification is just pennies per metric ton and the benefits of investment in micronutrient fortification far outweight the cost," the agency said, noting that young children and reproductive-aged women have the highest risk of developing deficiencies.
"Indonesia will miss an opportunity to protect high risk groups from micronutrient deficiencies which can lead to higher susceptibility for morbidity and mortality, impaired mental and physical development as well as higher prevalence of neural tube defects at birth," UNICEF added.
Rice or sago are typical staples across Indonesia, but annual wheat flour consumption per capita is predicted to increase from 15 to 30 kilogrammes (33 to 60 pounds) in the next decade, the agency said.