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Folate decision fails consumers

11 September 2006

Folate decision fails consumers

Plans to fortify all bread sold in New Zealand with a synthetic form of folate will deny consumer choice and fails to address questions about potential adverse health effects, the Green Party says.

Green Party Safe Food spokesperson Sue Kedgley says Food Standards Australia New Zealand's final proposal fails to exempt organic bread from mandatory fortification. This undermines the organic industry and completely removes consumers' right to choose breads without added folate.

"FSANZ states that it is aware of the issue of lack of consumer choice, but says it has been 'unable to identify the extent to which this will be of continuing concern to Australian and New Zealand consumers'. Surely that alone is reason for not proceeding until it has?

"Its way of dealing with consumer choice is to tell people to stop eating bread and instead make their own, or eat crumpets, pikelets, pizza or unleavened bread. This is not offering a choice at all," Ms Kedgley says.

"FSANZ says organic bread cannot be exempted because there is no agreed criteria for identifying organic food in Australia and New Zealand. However, in New Zealand we have a voluntary national standard for organics, developed by Standards New Zealand, making it very easy to tell which bread is organic.

"The issue of consumer choice is especially important given FSANZ's admission that 'there remains some uncertainty' about potential adverse health effects including some associations with cancer from increased folic acid intake.

"Their solution is to monitor the health impacts. In other words this is a giant experiment on mass medication of the people of New Zealand and Australia. Certainly we must have monitoring, but we should not have mass medication when there are so many unanswered questions about the potential adverse health effects."

This experiment cannot be allowed to proceed in its current form given that FSANZ admits that 'a small proportion of young children (7% of 2-3 year olds in Australia) are expected to exceed the Upper Level of Intake for folic acid. It cannot say how many children in New Zealand will exceed this level because there is no data available on folic acid intakes among children under five years. Folate may also pose a problem for older people as it can mask Vitamin B12 deficiency.

"While I recognise that some folate fortification would be of benefit to New Zealand in reducing the incidence of neural tube defects, this proposal goes too far. I call on the New Zealand Food Safety Authority to ensure that in New Zealand at least, organic breads are exempted from the mandatory fortification."

ENDS

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