Folic acid fortification debate still proving divisive

By Neil Merrett

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Folic acid

Opinion remains divided over plans by Food Standards Australia New
Zealand (FSANZ) for the mandatory fortification of bread with folic
acid, following the publication of a new paper on the issue.

The measures according to research in a new discussion paper published by FSANZ yesterday could reduce spinal defects in newborn children by 20 per cent. If the proposals, which stalled over discussions last year, are put in place, bakers throughout Australia and New Zealand will be expected to pick up the costs, which some local media reports suggest could reach about Aus$ 11m (7m). Health authorities suggest that the human cost of failing to fortify products, more than negates financial concerns. Folic acid has been proven to reduce the risk of neural tube defects such as spina bifida, which affect about 350 newborns every in Australia and New Zealand. FSANZ estimates that mandatory fortification would deliver pregnant women half the dose of folic acid needed to avoid the neural tube defects. A coalition of the country's food industry representatives however, believes that mandatory fortification is not the most effective solution in the battle against these birth defects. In their own white paper, the Australian Food and Grocery Council, along with George Weston Foods and Goodman Fielder questioned making the food industry responsible for such a health initiative. "We strongly believe a reduction in the incidence of neural tube defects rests in the domain of the public health community,"​ they wrote. "This public health problem requires a public health solution, not medication of the food supply."​ It is not just the industry, who remained concerned over the proposals, with some research questioning the true benefits of fortifying products with folic acids. There is some evidence to show that folic acid could mask deficiency of other B vitamins in the elderly and there are also fears of the effects of large amounts of folic acid in young children. Meanwhile organic bakers say that they cannot add a synthetic vitamin to their products that are by definition free of all additives. Ireland is undergoing a similar debate concerning the fortification of bread with folic acid, and is likely to be following evenets in the region very closely.

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