The New Zealand Food Safety Authority and New Zealand’s Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) jointly released a discussion document last week outlining the need for a consultation period to evaluate the impacts of such food enrichment.
Neural tubes defects
The purpose of folic acid consumption in women of child bearing years is for the prevention of a debilitating disease in children caused by neural tube defects that can occur while the fetus is developing during pregnancy.
The current management approach is to take folic acid supplements as pre-natal vitamins, however it is estimated that only 50% of women plan for pregnancy and therefore take sufficient folic acid prior to conceiving.
Consequently the mandatory fortification of folic acid in food would help to address the needs of those who either don’t plan for pregnancy or can’t afford the cost of folic acid supplementation.
Further consultation or policy implementation?
The discussion document now being circulated entitled: 'Folic Acid Fortification: Extension to the commencement date' considers two possible options around the timeframe for the Mandatory Fortification of Bread with Folic Acid. (Option 2 is MAF's preferred option):
Option 1: status quo - introduction of mandatory folic acid fortification of bread on 31 May 2012.
Option 2: extending the date by four months to September 2012 to allow further consultation and consideration of the issues.
Julie Collins, MAF Director Biosecurity, food and animal welfare policy, advised: "If the extension is supported, MAF will carry out a full, eight week public consultation on whether the New Zealand Food Standard for folic acid fortification of bread should remain voluntary or become mandatory."
This comment from Collins, however begs the obvious question, why is a public consultation period being proposed now, just three months before the date of the mandatory folic acid fortification?
In 2007, the Food Safety Minister in New Zealand at the time, Annette King, decided to go ahead with mandatory fortification of bread with folic acid.
King said the decision, jointly made with Australia, was "a triumph for humanity and common sense".
However in August 2009, just one month before the planned joint introduction of folic acid fortification, the New Zealand’s Minster of Health, Kate Wilkinson said that the government would not go ahead with a deal signed by the two countries two years earlier that would compel all flour millers to add between two and three parts per million of folic acid to flour.
Wilkinson explained that further research was needed and a decision would be deferred until at least 2012.
Folic acid and cancer link
Many believe that in 2009, a published US meta-analysis review that attempted to make a link between the folic acid intake and the increased risk of prostate cancer, was largely responsible for New Zealand health officials deferring their decision until 2012.
MAF has indicated that it is committed to working closely with public health stakeholders and the baking industry to ensure all key issues are considered.
Submissions on 'Folic Acid Fortification: Extension to the commencement date’ close on 24 February 2012.