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Do the mealie meal companies care about your health?

Pellagra is a horrible sickness. People with pellagra get thin. Their skin gets itchy and swollen. The sun hurts their eyes. Sometimes they get a “running stomach”. Some­times they go mad. And sometimes they die.

Pellagra is a big problem in South Africa. Over 100 thousand people with pellagra go to hospital every year. And many more people get pellagra. These people don’t go to hospital.

Poor people get pellagra. People who eat mostly mealie meal get pellagra. Mealie meal does not give people enough of two vitamins they need. The vitamins are called Nicotin and Riboflavin.

The mealie meal companies can easily help. They can stop people getting pellagra. And they can help people with pellagra. But most mealie meal companies are not helping.

The companies can help in a simple way. They can add the two vitamins to the mealie meal. The vitamins are very cheap. The vitamins do not change the taste of the mealie meal. And the vitamins do not change the feel of the mealie meal.

Doctors have asked companies to add vitamins for a long time. In 1963 three scientists wanted to find out why people get pellagra. They worked for nine years. In 1972 they said companies must add vitamins to mealie meal.

Since 1972 many more doctors have asked the companies to add vitamins. They say companies in other countries put vitamins in food – and now people in these countries don’t get pellagra.

In South Africa only a few companies add vitamins to mealie meal. Fedfood was the first company to add vitamins. They started making “A1” mealie meal in 1979.

But most companies do not add vitamins. Learn and Teach wanted to know why. We spoke to the two biggest companies – Tiger Oats and Premier Milling.

We spoke to Mr Thomas from Tiger Oats. Tiger Oats makes” Ace” and” Induna” mealie meal. Mr Thomas said, “We will do anything the people want. We don’t believe the people want us to add vitamins.”

We spoke to Mr Van Selm from Premier Milling. Premier Milling make “Iwisa” and “Impala” mealie meal. Mr Van Selm said “We put vitamins into our mealie meal for two weeks last April. But people didn’t like it. People said the colour was not the same.”

But many doctors and scientists don’t agree with Premier Milling. Dr Walker from the Institute of Medical Research says, “We have done tests in the last three months. Very few people can see a change in colour. The colour change is not a problem.”

A scientist from the S.A.B.S. agrees with Dr Walker. The scientist’s name is Dr du Plessis. He has studied putting vitamins into mealie meal for nealy 20 years. He says, “If the colour does change, the change is very small.”

“1 don’t understand the companies, “says Professor Seftel from Wits University. “Companies like Fedfood added vitamins. They didn’t have any problems. Why do other companies say they can’t do it?”

The Health Department is also not pleased with the companies. Learn and Teach spoke to Dr Kotze. He said, “The Health Department had a meeting with the big companies over a year ago. We asked the companies to add vitamins to mealie meal. The companies promised to add vitamins. But still they have done nothing about it. We are not very happy with them.”



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