If you had to identify one country as ground zero for processed food, you’d probably give the dubious honor to America, where they love their Cheez Whiz and Cool Whip as much as they love their guns.
But they are not the only nation with a penchant for the pre-packaged. According to a new study released by the University of Auckland’s School of Population Health and published in Public Health Nutrition, Kiwis are kind of in deep shit when it comes to supermarket shelves.
READ: Has New Zealand’s Milk Gone Bad? In a statement, Dr. Wilma Waterlander of UASPH said that New Zealand’s stores are stocked with the “unhealthiest food available,” primarily of the “ultra-processed” variety. (Almost all foods are technically “processed” in one way or another, whether it be power-washed fruit or even the preparation and baking of bread.)
Apparently, New Zealand’s supermarket shelves are lined with the least-nutritious foods possible, constituting the vast majority of what’s available to consumers.
Researchers looked at samples of the inventory of New Zealand supermarkets in 2011 and 2013 in order to reach this unhappy conclusion, examining the availability of packaged foods and then analyzing and categorizing their nutritional value (known as their Nutrient Profiling Score or NPSC), price, and degree of processing.
As of 2013, some 83 percent of the packaged foods available in the nation’s stores were in the “ultra-processed” category. And worse yet, the brands making them had a virtual monopoly. For instance, although more than 300 breakfast cereals were available, almost a third were made by just two major food brands, including Kellogg’s.
“This study observed many variations of virtually the same product,” Waterlander explained in the statement. “The ten largest food manufacturers produced 35 percent of all packaged foods available.”
But the New Zealand Food and Grocery Council is defending itself against what it claims is biased research. The council called the survey a “disappointing study of politicking dressed up as academic research” and said that wholesome foods such as bread, frozen and canned vegetables, cheese, and yogurt were being classified as “ultra-processed” despite their potential health benefits.
Additionally, a spokesperson for Countdown, one of New Zealand’s biggest supermarket chains, told Radio New Zealand that many consumers are buying fresh produce instead of the myriad chemical-laden junk on shelves.
“The first department our customers see when they enter a Countdown is the fresh fruit and vegetables. Our top ten products sold over the last 12 months are bananas, tomatoes, broccoli, white bread, carrots, milk 2L, avocado, cucumber, onions and grapes,” the spokesperson said. “Some of our customers want to cook from scratch, others want convenience offerings, and we provide that choice.”
After all, the power goes to the people, and sometimes the people want preservatives.