Oats, like many grains, contain an unusually high amount of Phytate. The phytate is naturally occurring, bu tin the late 1940’s, it was discovered that phytate contributed to detouring the absorption of iron and zinc. In the United States, this hasn’t been a grave issue, but in places such as Africa, the issue has been considerably problematic due to oats being such an economical food.
Quaker Oats was aware of the issue. At the time, they were also keenly aware of their competition, Cream of Wheat. Cream of Wheat, also derived from naturally grown grains, was also seeing the research regarding Phytates. Much as we consider “fat-free” and “low sugar” trends today, the past reveals similar narratives: marketing advantages existed, and grain-based products would be served well by exposing them in favorable terms.
MIT set out to find out the reality of the situation with Phytate. They decided to open studies based on the process by which the human body absorbs the aforementioned minerals in relationship to existing grain digestion. Quaker Oats was excited to find out they were being given the opportunity to fund such studies. They felt strongly it would give them an edge over their nemesis, Cream of Wheat. MIT’s initial action item was to recruit children. They used a school for disabled children (Fernald State School) to acquire 40 disabled children.
Times have changed, at least we hope, mostly. Back in the day, Fernald was not exactly a school built with the idea of helping those children deemed “retarded” by the state. In this case, they were often considered the perfect research samples. Actual human beings who are unfortunately born with issues in decision making and mental competency being lured into research studies is a disturbing concept; but also a very real one. These children and their parents were being told they were being placed in a study which would benefit them. They were told they’d be given vitamins.The more sinister aspect of the experiment took place when researchers used radioactive chemicals as a way to track the digestion of minerals. The children would be fed Quaker Oats laced with radioactive chemicals. This would become one of Big Foods most sickening ventures to date.
It would take decades before it was discovered what actually occurred at such a devastating level.
These children, according to an article which exposed the horrible acts printed in a 1993 edition of the Boston Globe, would later be called “the Fernald Science Club.”
Records at the Fernald State School list them as “morons,” but the researchers from MIT and Harvard University called the retarded teenage boys who took part in their radiation experiments “the Fernald Science Club.”
In the name of science, members of the club would eat cereal mixed with radioactive milk for breakfast or digest a series of iron supplements that gave them the radiation equivalent of at least 50 chest X-rays. From 1946 to 1956, scores of retarded teenagers consumed radioactive food to help the researchers better understand the human digestive process.
Amazingly, from the same article, one of the researchers who was tasked with assisting in the diabolical experiments, saw nothing wrong at all (at least as late as the date of the article printed in 1993).
But Constantine Maletskos, a former MIT researcher who studied how teen-agers at Fernald metabolized radioactive calcium, defended the experiments, saying they yielded important information about nutrition.
“I feel just as good about it today as the day I did it,” he said, “The attitude of the scientists was we’re going to do this in the best way possible. . . . They would get the minimum radiation they could possibly get and have the experiment work.”
Today, Quaker Oats is the most popular oatmeal brand on earth. They are owned by Pepsi. They were purchased in 2000, according to The Street for a hefty amount.
When PepsiCo (PEP)acquired Quaker Oats in 2000 for around $14 billion in stock and debt, the Gatorade sports-drink business was the real prize.
I suppose, in many ways, they did whatever it took to make their current success happen.