September 8, 2004
by Alex A. Avery
Denmark has become so paranoid over chemicals in their food that they are literally taking key nutrients from the mouths of children. A couple of weeks ago, the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration actually blocked Kellogg's from selling its breakfast cereals because they are fortified with vitamins and minerals.
We simply can't make up stuff this kooky.
Denmark has become infatuated with the organic philosophy of chemophobia. In the late 1990s, the government even briefly considered converting the entire country to organic farming over fears of the dangers of pesticides. While the authorities wisely backed off their organic-only scheme-after studies indicated food production would be cut in half-the nation is still clearly blinded by organic mania.
Nothing could better illustrate the absurdity of this frenzy than the new anti-fortification policy of the Danish food agency.
For decades, organic food activists have claimed that organic foods are more nutritious than non-organic foods, even though scientific study after scientific study has shown no nutritional difference. But in all this scientific debate, we've missed the elephant in the room: The real nutritional difference is that few organic foods are fortified with critical vitamins and minerals.
Compare a common children's cereal, Kellogg's® Corn Pops®, with an organic version, Envirokidz™ Organic GorillaMunch™ made by Nature's Path foods, both available at my local supermarket.
Both cereals are made essentially from corn, sugar, and salt. The organic cereal's top three ingredients are "Organic corn meal, organic evaporated cane juice, sea salt." It all sounds quaint, even that dodgy euphemism for sugar, "evaporated cane juice." Kellogg's® Corn Pops®' major ingredients are "Milled corn, sugar, corn syrup, molasses, salt."
Both cereals provide 110-120 calories per one cup serving, and 26-28 grams of carbohydrates. The organic GorillaMunch™ provides nearly twice as much sodium, whereas the Corn Pops® provide more carbohydrates in the form of sugar.
But while the basic nutrition of these cereals is nearly identical, the total nutritional value is worlds apart. A serving of Kellogg's® Corn Pops® provides between 10 and 25 percent of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of 11 important vitamins and minerals. In comparison, the organic cereal provides none, except for a measly 4 percent of the recommended amount of iron.
The fortification is aimed at preventing serious diseases of malnutrition in children. Vitamin A prevents blindness and death. Vitamin C prevents scurvy, which causes internal bleeding, loss of teeth, and general fatigue. Iron, B6, and B12 prevent anemia. Vitamin B1 prevents the nerve disease beriberi. Vitamin B3 prevents a severe nerve disease, pellagra. Folic acid prevents birth defects like spina bifida. And vitamin D prevents rickets, in which bones are weak and uncalcified.
The fortified Kellogg's cereal clearly offers significant nutritional advantages over the organic cereal. Which one would you feed to your child?
These aren't academic questions. Rickets has been making a tragic come-back in the United States lately, despite the widespread fortification of milk and cereals with vitamin D. Not only are children spending too little time in the sun, but they are also opting for unfortified sodas instead of fortified milk and juices.
What's so wrong with fortified foods that the Danish government would ban them from the country? The DVFA has a new fortification policy aimed at protecting a tiny minority of theoretical "high-calorie" consumers, who might eat 12 bowls of cereal in a day, from overexposure to vitamins. This despite a total lack of evidence that anyone is being overexposed.
Commenting on the new policy, senior DVFA researcher Salka Rasmussen said that "The knowledge on toxicity of vitamins and minerals is very limited and practically non-existent for children." She acknowledged that deficiencies of certain nutrients do exist in the population, "but only in small groups like immigrants who aren't getting enough vitamin D or pregnant women who need folic acid. We need to take care of all of the groups in our population."
Is it really better to protect a tiny minority of theoretical consumers from the highly unlikely ravages of fortified foods than to protect real immigrants and pregnant women from the known and serious ravages of malnutrition?
Alex Avery is director of research and education for the Hudson Institute's Center for Global Food Issues.
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