NEW ZEALAND: Folic acid plan toasted
Posted: August 18th, 2009 - 6:15pm
Source: The Mercury
New Zealand has pulled out of the joint agreement with Australia to introduce the mandatory addition of folic acid to bread just weeks before it is to start.
The New Zealand Government responded to public outcry against the "mass medication" of bread and fears that folic acid could cause more harm than benefits to health.
In Australia, the mandatory lacing of flour with folic acid, which is due to start on September 13, has gone largely unremarked.
Here, only the organic sector and flour millers, the ones who will have to add the folic acid to all flour intended for bread-making (in essence all flour, as millers do not know how their flour will be used) have objected to the move.
New Zealand was to have set about it differently -- there bakers would have added the folic acid to bread, so at least people who chose to bake their own bread could have avoided the folic acid. But in Australia, there is only one, very small, exception to flour fortified with folic acid. Here, only certified organic flour is exempted from having to be fortified with folic acid.
Organic Federation of Australia chair Andre Leu said certified organic bread accounts for only 1 per cent of the market -- there is a chronic shortage of organic grain and it also was difficult to get grains milled organically.
Leu said even this exception in Australia was due to agitation by the organic sector in New Zealand, and "we're very grateful to them".
So small is the offering of organic bread, that avoiding folic acid could mean in practice not eating bread at all.
The standard on flour fortification has been developed by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ). Policies for FSANZ to follow are set by a Ministerial Council made up of the Australian health minister and New Zealand food safety minister and the health ministers of each Australian state and territory (in NSW it is the primary industries minister). Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon is the chair, but in practice delegates the responsibility to the Parliamentary Secretary with responsibility for FSANZ, Mark Butler.
Across the Tasman, the issue was hot -- Minister for Food Safety Kate Wilkinson and Greens MP Sue Kedgley were at loggerehads on the issue on current affairs television, letters were written to editors, blogged comments on the issue are pages long.
"Leave our bread alone" and "don't give up sovereignty to Australia" were common cries, but when Wilkinson finally pulled the plug, and said New Zealand would not decide on the issue for three years, she said it was to await developments on an emerging case that such supplementation might cause harm to a larger proportion of the population than that it was aiming to help.