Folic acid move causing angst across the Tasman

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 14th July 2009

New Zealand could pull out of a trans-Tasman move to fortify bread with folic acid as opposition mounts against the plan.

As of September 13, the flour used to make bread will be required to be fortified with folic acid after a 2007 decision by Food Standards Australia New Zealand.

Bread Shelves

The regulatory body made the move as folic acid is known to prevent neural tube defects in babies. The impact on the population at large is now under question, however, after studies have discovered a possible link between folic acid as a dietary supplement and the incidence of certain cancers. As a result, Ireland and the UK have put on hold their mandatory fortification schemes until further research is carried out. And New Zealand’s Food Safety Minister has said the new conservative government is looking into the prospect of abandoning the scheme.

“Annette King led the charge to have mandatory fortification throughout New Zealand and Australia and ignored widespread public opposition, as well as advice from industry,” NZ Food Safety Minister Kate Wilkinson said.

Ms Wilkinson indicated that the relationship with Australia with regard to food regulation could, however, be strained by a decision to block the plan.

“New Zealand is part of a joint standard system with Australia, which is enshrined in both treaty and legislation and we take these responsibilities seriously,” she advised. “Once a standard is in place, there is a long process to amend or withdraw it.”

“We are currently assessing our options to address this legacy issue and are more than happy to work with the bakers as implementation of the standard nears.”

Ms Wilkinson said she sympathised with the New Zealand Association of Bakers, who have reported frustration with the move, labelling it a “mass medication” of New Zealanders.

Australia is set to press on with the plan regardless of the New Zealand decision, with folic acid to join vitamin B1 as a requirement in all bread. Iodised salt is also set to become mandatory in October.