01.Australians to be fed folate in bread
In a bid to reduce neural tube defects (NTDs) in unborn babies, from mid-September bakers will be required to use flour containing folic acid in their bread products. Fortified products will include bread, foccacia, bagels, English muffins and flat breads, and may include pikelets, crumpets, donuts, pizza bases and crumbed products. People wishing to avoid eating fortified bread will need to buy organic.
According to Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), approximately 300-350 pregnancies are affected each year. And while the regulator estimates mandatory fortification could reduce NTD births by between 14 and 49 each year, there are 20 million Australians who could be eating fortified bread.
CHOICE supports strategies that target women of childbearing age. However, non-target groups, such as young children, need to be protected from any potential adverse effects from consuming high levels of folic acid. Mandatory folate fortification was intended to prevent NTDs in unplanned pregnancies. However, FSANZ estimates most women will not achieve a daily intake of 400 micrograms of folic acid — the recommended amount to reduce the risk of NTDs — through food consumption alone, and says women will still need to take supplements.
The recently elected New Zealand government is backing away from its predecessor’s decision to fortify bread, opting instead for a more in-depth consultation process. “The proposal aims to give us more time to evaluate the risks and benefits of the standard and to take into account the wishes of New Zealanders,” said Minister for Food Safety, Kate Wilkinson.
There’s no question NTDs, such as spina bifida, are a serious health problem that have devastating social, emotional and financial consequences for families affected by them,” said CHOICE Senior Policy Officer, Clare Hughes. “But we shouldn’t overlook the impact of mandatory fortification on other groups.”
From next month, iodine will be also added to non-organic bread, in a move intended to benefit the entire population, not just unborn babies.