NZ defers folic acid fortification decision until 2012

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 28th August 2009

Mandatory fortification of folic acid in bread will be deferred until May 2012 in New Zealand, with the focus now on introducing a targeted voluntary programme, NZ Minister for Food Safety Kate Wilkinson announced this week.

Australia and New Zealand were due to make folic acid fortification mandatory as of September 13, but New Zealand has backed away from the plan after concerns were raised about the health ramifications. At this stage, Australia is still pushing ahead with the plan.

The regulatory body originally made the move as folic acid is known to prevent neural tube defects in babies.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, the UK and, now, New Zealand, have put on hold their mandatory fortification schemes until further research is carried out.

“After reading through each of the 124 submissions, I decided the best way forward was to put the mandatory requirement on hold,” Ms Wilkinson said. “I agree with public health advocates that folic acid is beneficial to the health of women and can prevent neural tube defects, but I also understand consumers overwhelmingly want to be able to choose whether or not the bread they buy is fortified.”

“I met with representatives of the baking industry yesterday and they are prepared to develop a voluntary code targeted at increasing women’s intake of folic acid, particularly at child-bearing age.”

Submissions were received from both sides of the debate, with public health advocates primarily in favour of keeping the mandatory standard. Consumers and industry generally opposed it, preferring it be revoked.

A range of foods are already fortified with folic acid, including cereals and orange juice. Folate occurs naturally in leafy vegetables such as spinach and other foods such as baked beans.