What is Biofortification?

Biofortification is the idea of increasing the nutritional value of food, feed or fodder by improving the plants and crops which are used to produce them.

Plants can be biofortified in a variety of ways; through conventional selective breeding, precision breeding (gene editing) or genetic engineering or agronomic practices that make plants more nutritious as they are grow.

Additionally approaches including fermentation, controlled environment agriculture, improved bio-availability (by mixing or improving food) or reformulation of existing food and feed products can be used for biofortification.

As well as increasing nutrient levels, biofortification can also encompass making nutrients more accessible to uptake and use. This property of bioavailability can be improved through food structure or combining different foods.

The Biofortification Hub is open to all traditional and novel approaches to improve the nutritional value of food, feed and fodder.

The concept of biofortification came to prominence during the ‘Green Revolution’ when it was realised that increasing productivity of staples meant that people, especially in the developing world, came to depend on a narrower range of foods that might not supply adequate levels of micronutrients and essential vitamins.

While biofortification initially focused on enriching staple crops in a few vitamins and minerals (vitamin A, B1, B6, Fe, Zn, Se) the concept has now broadened to include essential amino acids, health-promoting fatty acids and beneficial phytonutrients such as anthocyanins, proanthocyanidins, stilbenes, carotenoids, fibre, plus a broad range of minerals including calcium, iodine, magnesium and potassium; and vitamins including vitamin D3, vitamin C, vitamin B12 and vitamin K.

Improving diets

Biofortification has a role to play in improving diets globally, and must now be considered a priority for the UK to maintain public health. That ranges from people currently consuming considerable amounts of cheap, highly processed foods as well as those adopting plant-based diets low in vitamin D3, vitamin B12, haem iron and zinc. Increasing the levels of ‘phytonutrients’ in the few fruits and vegetables can also balance the sub-optimal levels of these foods many people habitually eat.

There is a need to transform current food systems to ensure sufficient nutrition is available for all through sustainable routes. This is an aspiration shared by food producers, policymakers and health and social care providers. Biofortification has a role to play in delivering that.