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Iodine plan should be met with caution - Greens

18 August 2006

Iodine plan should be met with caution -Greens

Plans to increase the levels of iodine in New Zealanders' diets by adding it to food should be greeted with caution and the public warned of the risks as well as the benefits, the Green Party says.

The Food Safety Authority today called for public comment on the proposal for the mandatory fortification of breakfast cereals, breads and biscuits by replacing the salt in these products with iodised salt.

"I am surprised that the proposal includes so many products - not just bread. It's vital that a considerable number of these products remain free of iodised salt so that people who have intolerance to iodine can have a reasonable diet. It would be a severe imposition on these people if they were restricted to a handful of products, Health Spokesperson Sue Kedgley says.

"The risks and benefits of mandatory fortification need to be carefully weighed up. While we acknowledge that iodine deficiency can lead to significant health problems, having too much iodine can also cause significant harm.

"Too much iodine can lead to hyperthyroidism, a condition that in some cases can be lethal. What's more, studies confirm that when populations that are iodine deficient- as New Zealand's is - have their diets supplemented through fortification, then the incidence of hyperthyroidism increases.

"Mandatory fortification needs to be managed carefully to avoid overdosing New Zealanders. One way to do this would be through incremental increases, starting at a low level so that people's bodies have time to adjust. This should be accompanied close monitoring, especially of children aged 2-5 years as they could be at particular risk of developing hyperthyroidism.

"Some people, especially those who have had long term iodine deficiency, are particularly sensitive to increases in this mineral. Therefore it is important for there to be iodine-free alternatives in each of the product types.

"It is also important that fortified products have clear labels advising consumers of the risks and symptoms of too much iodine.

"People may not realise that their symptoms of hyperthyroidism are related to iodine intake, and so there needs to be a widespread public education campaign alerting consumers to these risks, New Zealanders need to have the power to make sensible and informed choices about their diet and health, Ms Kedgley says.

ENDS

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