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Needlessly Alarming?

Kris Charles, a spokesperson for Kellogg Company, a leading breakfast cereal manufacturer, says in a statement that the company “is concerned that the EWG report could needlessly alarm parents looking to make the right nutrition choices for their children. The report ignores a great deal of the nutrition science and consumption data showing that without fortification of foods such as ready-to-eat cereals, many children would not get enough vitamins and minerals in their diets.”

Louise Berner, PhD, whose research is cited in the EWG report, also questions its conclusions.

“I agree that excessive or indiscriminate fortification, particularly along with the indiscriminate or unneeded use of supplements, is a potential issue of concern, but the EWG report is worrisome to me in several respects,” Berner, a professor of food science and nutrition at Cal Poly State University in San Luis Obispo, CA, tells WebMD.

One problem, she says, is that the report fails to mention uncertainty surrounding the “tolerable upper intake level,” or UL, the highest level of daily nutrient intake likely to pose no risk of harm. The UL is the cutoff the report uses when it makes such statements as “45% of 2- to 8-year-old children consume too much zinc.”

But researchers have widely noted that the UL values are too low for some nutrients, such as zinc, Berner says. The UL values for children should be revisited, she says. Also, Berner says, the report “selects data and summarizes findings out of context.”

And finally, she says, the report “mischaracterizes the main message of our published data as I interpret them.” She says her research shows that fortified foods, mainly enriched grains, breakfast cereals, milk and juice, play an important role in ensuring that children get adequate amounts of many nutrients. Supplement use, and not fortification, seems to be “the major driver of potentially high [nutrient] intakes,” Berner says.

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