The Vitamin Police

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Jun 18, 2011    •    562 Views

Most of the corn flakes that we eat in the U.S. are illegal in Denmark because they have vitamin supplements. Consequently, the NY Times tells us that large food companies like Kellogg’s and small stores stocking Marmite, have to undergo an expensive and time consuming approval process if they want to sell a food with added vitamins and minerals.

Why do the Danes disapprove of supplements? Because they believe their diets are sufficiently healthy.

As economists, Danish vitamin regulation takes us to the role of government. Should government be able to tell Kellogg’s that they cannot sell corn flakes with Vitamin D?

Or, in the U.S., knowing that we have an obesity epidemic, should government tax unhealthy food? Especially because unhealthy calories are cheaper than the good ones, maybe a McDouble should be taxed. One academic study indicates that a tax on less healthy food discourages people from buying it. By contrast, making healthy food cheaper did not have the same beneficial impact.

The Economic Lesson

Concerned that government could not possibly know what is best for each of us, economic philosopher Adam Smith (1723-1790) suggested that a “just” society required less government involvement. By contrast, contemporary Nobel laureate Paul Krugman believes that more government leads to a better world.

An Economic Question: Citing cost and benefit, explain why you approve or disapprove of Denmark’s ban on vitamin supplements.

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