18 May 2009

Bakers, Greens welcome rethink on folic acid

11:33 am on 18 May 2009

Bakers are pleased the Government is reviewing a plan to add folic acid to bread.

Under a scheme inherited from the previous Government, it will become mandatory in September for bakers to add the vitamin to most breads.

Folic acid can reduce neural tube defects, such as spina bifida, in babies, if it is taken before conception.

However Food Safety Minister Kate Wilkinson says there is also evidence to suggest it can cause an increase in colon cancer.

The Baking Industry Association of New Zealand's Jason Heaven says making it mandatory to add folic acid to bread is undemocratic.

He says adding folic acid is an extra production cost which takes away people's ability to decide whether they want it in their bread.

Green Party food spokesperson, Sue Kedgley, says having folic acid in bread puts young children at risk of consuming an unsafe amount.

She says it is sensible to pause and look at the research on the effect of folic acid.

The head of Auckland University's paediatrics department, Innes Asher, says there is plenty of evidence worldwide demonstrating how effective folic acid is in reducing spina bifida cases.

Professor Asher says New Zealand's progress on the issue has been a long time coming, and the new research will have to be evaluated carefully.

The minister, Kate Wilkinson says the facts are being carefully considered as New Zealand is part of joint food treaty with Australia, so it would not be easy to pull out of the scheme.

However, she says research shows 87% of people in New Zealand oppose adding folic acid to bread.

The minister says she will be getting a Food Safety Authority briefing and will take the matter to Cabinet in the next couple of weeks.