Micronutrients are essential vitamins and minerals that people need to develop and maintain good health. While the best way to prevent micronutrient deficiencies is to maintain a diverse and healthy diet, nutritious foods are not always accessible or affordable to all, particularly most vulnerable groups. In fact, more than two billion people globally suffer from deficiencies of micronutrients such as iron, iodine, folic acid and vitamin A, causing serious health and economic impacts.
Our campaign takes a closer look at a complementary solution: food fortification – the addition of micronutrients to foods to correct or prevent deficiencies and improve public health. An intervention available to the food industry that could save millions of lives if done well, poor governmental oversight often results in a majority of food products not being adequately fortified even where national legislation exists. Furthermore, media reports highlight how some players in the food industry purposefully under-fortify foods to gain commercial advantage over their competitors.
Cereal offender: is Kellogg’s breaking its breakfast promises?
Breakfast cereals are some of the most commonly fortified foods and dominate many children’s diets globally. Fortification of cereals is mostly not mandated by legislation, but driven by individual company’s commitments to improved nutrition. This report looks at the behaviour of Kellogg’s, the leading company in terms of breakfast cereal sales in Mexico, where micronutrient deficiencies are a major public health problem including amongst children. In its strategy documents Kellogg’s claims to fortify its products in line with population needs, in order to deliver healthy foods for people of all income levels in every country. However, a closer look at their product reveals that their nutrient makeup varies dramatically both across and within its product brands. More shockingly, a historical comparison of product labels shows that, since 2013, Kellogg’s has quietly reduced or removed over two thirds of all micronutrients in its five most popular cereal brands. This includes essential nutrients such as calcium, iron, folic acid, vitamin A and zinc that are lacking in Mexican children’s diets. The report calls on Kellogg’s to urgently review its practices and consistently fortify its products in line with its own policies.
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The grain of truth: industry compliance on flour fortification in Mexico
Building on previous analysis, this report reveals the results of the first independent testing of 343 samples of 61 wheat and maize flour products sold in Mexico. For almost a decade, Mexican law has obligated companies to fortify flour with iron, zinc, folic acid and other B vitamins, but fortification can only be effective against micronutrient deficiencies if implemented properly. However, our investigation reveals that only 7% of packaged maize and wheat flours, only 4 wheat products, are fortified adequately. Despite maize representing three-quarters of the grain market in Mexico, none of the maize flour companies seem to be fortifying adequately; they are either using the wrong type of iron or are not doing enough to ensure enough iron and zinc is being added to their products. It is also worrying that even government subsidised maize flours are either not fortified at all (DIF Chiapas) or not adequately (DICONSA). These products are not only breaking the law but also completely failing to ensure most vulnerable families increase their consumption of nutritious foods. The report calls on the new government in Mexico to take a fresh look at the actions of the food industry and take corrective action to guarantee that Mexican people have access to essential nutrients through their staple foods.
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Micronutrient deficiencies in Mexico: Ironing out the kinks
This briefing looks further into the issue of flour fortification in Mexico, specifically at whether flour companies are following the recommendations on the most effective iron sources that are set out in the Mexican legislation and by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Fortifying flours with the correct type and quantity of iron compounds can have a significant impact on the effectiveness of the fortification programme in improving people’s health and alleviating nutritional anaemia. Only four out of 12 brands of nixtamilised maize flours analysed for this research were found to be using the recommended type of iron to fortify their products. The brands that were not using the recommended iron compounds include major brands in Mexico such as Maseca, Hari Masa, Maizza and many supermarket’s own brands such as Walmart’s Aurrerá. In contrast, wheat flour brands were mostly found to be using the recommended sources in their white flour products but not in their wholegrain varieties. The report concludes with a number of recommendations to the Mexican government, flour-milling industry and retailers to remediate this situation and play their part in helping to tackle this public health crisis.
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Sorting the Wheat from the Chaff: Food Fortification in Mexico
In this report, we delve deeper into the issue of food fortification in Mexico, a country with a double burden of malnutrition. While Mexico has one of the highest obesity rates in the world, certain micronutrient deficiencies, particularly iron deficiency, continue to be a public health concern. For this reason, the Mexican government put in place legislation on the mandatory fortification of both wheat and maize flour in the early 2000s. However, the available government data show a variable level of compliance amongst the flour industry, including a particularly concerning drop in compliance in the fortification of maize flour with folic acid, casting doubts on the flour-milling and food-processing industries’ actions to provide Mexican people with sufficiently fortified flours, tortillas and breads to help tackle micronutrient deficiencies. The report concludes by making a series of recommendations to all players involved, with a special emphasis on the need for strengthening the enforcement regime.
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