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Folate document open for submissions

6 July 2004 Media Statement
Folate document open for submissions

A discussion document on whether folate fortification of food should remain voluntary or become mandatory is now available for public submissions, says Minister for Food Safety Annette King.

The consultation paper, jointly prepared by the New Zealand Food Safety Authority and the Ministry of Health, looks at the two options.

Increased intake of folate in the early stages of pregnancy is universally accepted as a way of reducing the risk of neural tube defects (NTDs), such as spina bifida. Approximately 25-35 children are born with NTDs in New Zealand each year.

The Ministry of Health’s policy advice for the prevention of NTDs in New Zealand recommends women planning a pregnancy take 800 mcg of folic acid daily for four weeks before conception and 12 weeks after conceiving. Women at high risk of having a baby with a NTD are advised to take 5000 mcg folic acid daily over the same period.

In September 2003, the Ministry of Health released a report, Improving Folate Intake in New Zealand: Policy Implications. A key recommendation was to consider introducing mandatory folate fortification of food to better protect women planning, or in the early stages of, pregnancy. Internationally, mandatory fortification has reduced NTDs by between 19 and 50 per cent.

Ms King said although current policy allows for voluntary fortification of certain food products with folate, there has not been sufficient uptake by the New Zealand food industry to achieve the level of protection required.

The advantages of mandatory over voluntary fortification are that it would deliver the benefits of folic acid to a wider population and potentially reach more women of child-bearing age, regardless of ethnicity and socio-economic status.

The Australia New Zealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council has recently agreed to a policy guideline on fortifying foods with vitamins and minerals. This provides Food Standards Australia New Zealand with a framework for reviewing the current provisions for new fortification considerations.

New Zealand consultation on mandatory folate fortification was timely, Ms King said. “Consultation will provide an opportunity for policy issues in the New Zealand context to be identified, and for New Zealand expert stakeholders to inform the policy development process in this area.”

Submissions close on 20 August. The discussion document is on the website, www.nzfsa.govt.nz, or hard copies are available by request from NZFSA.

ENDS

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