New Zealand finally set to decide on folic acid fortification?

By Kacey Culliney

- Last updated on GMT

The conversation has built and is set to be decided soon, following latest consultation paper...
The conversation has built and is set to be decided soon, following latest consultation paper...

Related tags Folic acid fortification Folic acid

New Zealand’s Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has called for submissions on its latest consultation paper set to decide between mandatory implementation of folic acid fortification or a continued voluntary policy.

The MPI’s latest paper – The Future of Folic Acid Fortification of Bread in New Zealand – comes just a few months after it circulated a paper in February to put-off the decision date by four months. The government body at the time said it needed more time to allow further consultation on the decision.

This latest consultation process to decide between four industry options of either mandatory or voluntary folic acid fortification will close on 16 July 2012.

To fortify or not…

The country initially decided for mandatory folic acid fortification in 2007 but two years later, just one month before the requirement was implemented, the government made a U-turn and instead recommended voluntary fortification.

A Folic Acid Working Group was established in 2009 by the minister for Food Safety to encourage voluntary fortification across New Zealand’s bakery sector.

This decision deferral, some say, was sparked by a US meta-analysis review that looked into folic acid links with prostate cancer as well as widespread protests from consumers and bakers.

Folic acid is a B vitamin that has well-documented links to the prevention of neural tube defects in foetuses and newborns that can prevent debilitating diseases in children such as anencephaly and spina bifida. However, it has also been linked with the onset of some cancers, particularly among the elderly.

Proposed options

The MPI in its latest paper has has proposed four options for industry:

  1. Mandatory fortification as defined in the current Standards with the possibility of delayed or phased-in commencement
  2. Limited mandatory fortification where a threshold is set before mandatory fortification applies
  3. Mandatory reporting where all bakeries must report on whether they fortify their bread with folic acid and how much of their bread is fortified
  4. Voluntary fortification with a mandated review starting in 2015

The full discussion paper can be found here.

Mandatory moves

Globally, 59 countries have a mandatory folic acid fortification policy for bread – including the US, Canada, Latin America, Australia and a number of countries across Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

The New Zealand Organisation for Rare Disorders (NZORD) backs a mandatory move as it said that estimates show the voluntary policy indicate it has not been successful in reducing diseases in children.

NZORD said the government’s latest consultation paper is “an important chance to improve the health of babies and prevent another death or serious disability from neural tube defects.”

Some bakers have protested the decision, saying it adds unnecessary costs to production and that it is unlikely women will consume an efficacious dose anyway, as that would require 11 slices of bread per day. Others have voluntarily fortified breads – including Goodman Fielder, George Weston Foods, Yarrows and Couplands.

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