Can you tell me a little bit about how you came to hold your current position in the Food Fortification Initiative?
Sure, it's an interesting story. I was living in Australia in 2003 and I was seconded to a joint venture company called Allied Mills, the largest wheat flour milling and bakery mix company in Australia.
When I returned, I went back to my operations role for the global dry milling businesses in Cargill. Shortly after I returned to Minneapolis, Cargill's public affairs team where I invited the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to Minneapolis.
The team that had joined CDC group to meet us contained one of FFI founding members of the FFI. They started talking about what they do and their strong belief relating to the public, private and civic sectors. I was particularly interested in involving the private sector, which many development agencies shy away from.
Then, in 2010, I decided to retire from Cargill. I had spent the past six years strongly supporting the FFI, working closely with the team as the board chair. I then became the industry liaison and within a few months, we had a gap in leadership and they asked me if I would be the director.
What motivated you to move into food fortification, was it just to help or did you have you some experience behind you?
I had spent six years working with the team as the Board Chair. In this role you begin to develop a real passion for this incredible work that can be done globally and that is so cost effective in the private sector.
While at Cargill we often spoke about cost benefit ratios in approving multimillion dollar capital investments, but we never saw the payback numbers of simply fortifying wheat flour with vitamins and minerals. The cost of fortification is miniscule but the benefits are unbelievable.
Do you think the flour milling industry is fully aware of the impact that fortification offers, or is it still seen as extra cost?
The power of fortification to strengthen million of lives is the message we're trying to put out there right now. We are currently working with Kansas State University on its milling curriculum. They teach about flour ingredient improvers, which includes talking about vitamins and minerals addition through premixes.
We're trying to incorporate into that training how incredibly important it is to do this, why we do it, how many birth defects we can eliminate globally and what an opportunity this is to make a difference.
So very early in their careers millers are being trained that the work that they do is critical and its positive effect will last for generations to come.
Why is it that we can almost immediately develop a vaccine to save lives threatened by Covid-19 yet we can't simply fortify our foodstuffs and protect women and their newly born babies? Do you think that there should be more of a focus at this?
That's a great point you bring up, so my answer is absolutely. This whole segment is underfunded globally, and I'm not talking about just FFI.
So why is that? Well, this neglect has been going on for years. It's not something new. Maybe we need to tell our story better as this is such an incredible intervention.
One comparison that I could make is that the addition of iodised salt, which was started many years ago. This is one of history's most significant public health interventions, by simply adding a bit of iodine to salt. This is where the idea of adding vitamins and minerals to cereal grains comes from.
So again, the comparison is great and the story for wheat flour, rice, maize should be the same. We currently estimate 30 percent of the world's milled wheat flour is fortified. But we have got a way to go as less than one percent of all rice is fortified. With maize it's probably 30 to 40 percent fortified.
So finally, do you have a vision about where fortification might go universally? How are we going to achieve that and how important is the miller's role in achieving your vision?
Sometimes I tell people, when I worked for Cargill, that when I woke in the morning, there was no doubt that my job was to increase the company's profits and to sustain its business.
Now when I wake up in the morning, I want to prevent the burden of micronutrient deficiencies globally, that's what I wake up to do.
FFI estimates that between one billion to two billion people suffer from anaemia. Preventing anaemia - and it's debilitating consequences on mothers and developing children - through fortification is what we're trying to achieve. Our vision is to eliminate the micronutrient deficiencies suffered by two billion people across the world, meaning a reduction in anaemia, birth defects and the improved health of women of childbearing age.
That's what FFI's vision is, that's why I do this work. Millers are the critical players, especially those that add premix and fortify. I find millers to be very cooperative and willing to support this work.
Millers should be proud if they are fortifying their wheat flour and rice with folic acid or with iron. The impact that they're making on the public health of their country is incredible. And the evidence is irrefutable.
So, again, that's why I have real passion. Food fortification is just something we have to do and I'm not patient about it. Millions of lives - and futures - can't wait.