Folate and the addition of folic acid to food

Folate is a vitamin important for cell growth and reproduction. It is vital for the healthy development of babies. Learn more about folate and why the synthetic form, folic acid, is added to some foods.

8 JULY 2021: Review of folic acid fortification of food

In 2019, the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) consulted with the public on options to change the requirements for folic acid fortification. The Government has decided that from mid-2023, all non-organic wheat flour used for bread making must be fortified with folic acid, except for some exported products.

Find out about the consultation and the decision

What is folate?

Folate is a B vitamin found naturally in food, especially:

  • green vegetables like broccoli, spinach, and salad greens
  • citrus fruit
  • wholegrain bread and breakfast cereals
  • chickpeas, nuts, dried beans, and peas (though cooking reduces the folate level).

What is folic acid?

Folic acid is the synthetic form of folate. It is added to some manufactured foods and drinks. It may also be taken as a vitamin supplement, either on its own or when added to vitamin B or other supplements.

Why folate is important

Folate is vital for healthy cells and tissues.

If you don't get enough folate, your body may not be able to produce healthy red blood cells. Red blood cells may be larger than normal. This is a disorder called megaloblastic anaemia.

Folic acid and pregnancy

Folic acid is important for the healthy development of babies in the womb. Especially in early pregnancy when babies grow most rapidly.

Some women don't get enough folic acid before and during early pregnancy. They have a higher risk of giving birth to babies with conditions known as neural tube defects. These include spina bifida and anencephaly.

The Ministry of Health recommends folic acid supplementation for pregnant women and women planning a pregnancy.

Folate/folic acid and pregnancy – Ministry of Health

Food and pregnancy

Folic acid fortification

Fortification is when nutrients are added to food and drinks during manufacturing.

From mid-2023, folic acid must be added to:

  • non-organic wheat flour that is used for making bread sold within New Zealand.

Folic acid can be added to:

  • wheat breads (until mid-2023)
  • non-wheat breads  
  • breakfast cereals
  • fruit and vegetable juices
  • milk alternatives, like soy milk
  • food drinks (such as liquid meal supplements).

Folic acid in bread

In 2014, the New Zealand Association of Bakers agreed to fortify 25% to 50% of bread with folic acid. This practice will no longer be valid once fortification of folic acid becomes mandatory in mid-2023.

Find a list of folic acid fortified bread – Bake Info

Adding folic acid is safe

There is no consistent evidence that folic acid, when fortified in food at the recommended level, has any harmful health effects.

The health benefits and risks of folic acid fortification of food – Office of the Prime Minister's Chief Science Advisor and the Royal Society Te Apārangi

Are foods fortified with folic acid labelled?

Yes. If folic acid has been added, it will be on the product ingredients list. Food makers can list this as folate or folic acid.

It will sometimes be on the nutrition information panel.

How to read food labels

Who to contact

If you have questions about folate and folic acid added to food, email info@mpi.govt.nz

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