New Zealand decides voluntary instead of mandatory folic acid fortification in bread

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 6th September 2012

The New Zealand government has ruled against mandatory fortification of bread with folic acid. This position is a divergence from that of Australia which has required mandatory fortification since August 2009.

New Zealand’s Food Safety Minister Kate Wilkinson said that a thorough eight-week public consultation process had been held by the Ministry for Primary Industries  and resulted in 134 submissions, of which 88 supported voluntary instead of mandatory fortification.

“In making my decision in favour of voluntary fortification, I read all the submissions and the clear message is that people want choice,” Ms Wilkinson says.

In 2009 Ms Wilkinson also established the Folic Acid Working Group which included health professionals, representatives of families affected by neural tube defects (NTD) and members of the bread industry. Their views and submissions informed the decision.

Women’s red blood folate levels in New Zealand have increased in the past few years under the existing voluntary folic acid medication programs. Between 2008 and 2011 the level of women with blood folate levels that put them at risk of having a neural tube defect (NTD) affected pregnancy has nearly halved.

“Folic acid plays an important role in reducing NTDs in babies, but fortification of bread is only one part of a wider package of initiatives.”

Other initiatives in place include the existing voluntary fortification of a range of other foods and Ministry of Health initiatives such as providing educational information and subsidised folic acid tablets available on prescription.

The New Zealand Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) will continue to work with the bread industry to achieve a fortification rate of up to 50 per cent of packaged bread and assist them with developing a voluntary code of practice to meet the requirements in the standard.

MPI will work with Ministry of Health and the bread industry to ensure that the range of breads fortified achieves the best effect on NTDs.

Bakeries using folic acid receive annual visits from auditors currently and these visits will include checks on how they are fortifying to meet the New Zealand (Permitted Fortification of Bread with Folic Acid) Food Standard 2012. This permits voluntary fortification of bread with a maximum permissible level of 250 micrograms folic acid per 100 grams.

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