Deputy director-general for New Zealand Food Safety Bryan Wilson announced today the release of the consultation document Folic acid fortification: Increasing folic acid availability in food.
"Folic acid is an essential B vitamin important for everyone but particularly for healthy development of babies early in pregnancy. There is overwhelming evidence that sufficient folic acid before conception and during early pregnancy can prevent many cases of neural tube defects such as spina bifida. New Zealand's rate of neural tube defects is higher than other comparable countries," says Mr Wilson.
"It is concerning that Māori women have higher rates of affected live births than other groups. The impact from these birth defects is significant for many families, whānau, and communities across New Zealand."
There is no consistent evidence that folic acid, when fortified in food at the recommended level, has any harmful health effects.
"New Zealand Food Safety, a business unit of the Ministry for Primary Industries, recognises the importance of this issue. We want to make it easy for women of childbearing age to increase their consumption of food containing folic acid, while considering consumer choice, improving equity of health outcomes, and minimising impacts on industry. Folic acid supplements work, but only for the women who plan their pregnancy and know to take them before conception. Around 53% of pregnancies in New Zealand are unplanned," says Mr Wilson.
With this in mind, the consultation provides options on whether government should:
- continue with the current voluntary approach of fortifying up to 50% of packaged sliced bread (in 2017, 38% was fortified by volume, up from 14% in 2012)
- ask industry to enhance the voluntary approach to fortify 80% of packaged sliced bread, or
- introduce mandatory fortification of bread, bread-making wheat flour, or all wheat flour.
All options would exclude organic products.
"The consultation document seeks feedback on all options. Hearing the views of the public will help us understand the possible impacts of the proposals.
"We would like to hear from anybody who is interested in this issue, including industry groups, importers and exporters of flour or bread products, health professionals, and consumers," says Mr Wilson.
The discussion document and an online feedback form are available on our website.
MPI will also hold 3 public meetings to hear stakeholder views and address any questions. Details will be posted on our website.
Consultation closes 5:00pm on 12 November 2019.