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Science + sense on folate in bread

Science + sense on folate in bread
15-7-09

Fortifying bread with folate has in fact caused decreases in spina bifida rates in several countries where it has been instituted.

It is decades since I taught what little nutrition was in the U of Auckland medical course, and I cannot claim to be up to date on this particular issue; therefore I give below a review by a current expert. I can pass along some less recent history: a decade ago Goodman Fielder Wattie (who supply most of the bread flour used in NZ) were meter a trickle of folic acid into their bread flour, on the initiative of Prof Bob Elliott who told me at the time that GFW were quite happy to spend $1M for the eqpt and perhaps 1/5 of that annual operating costs, as a voluntary contribution to public health.

I believe iodised salt is the nearest analogue - mass medication, if one wishes to call it that, but justified and not dangerous. Is there any informed objection to that public-health measure?

The GFW initiative was furtively torpedoed by Susan Kedgley list-MP, in collusion with K Poutasi M.B.

Later, I happened to be listening to Parliament when Kedgley was asked about this during one of the relatively rare sessions of questions for ordinary MPs as distinct from ministers. Her answer falsified the history of her role in this issue. It is encouraging that she felt ashamed of her prior furtive actions, but dismaying that an MP would lie in such circumstances. BTW she now complains at the lack of debate in Parliament on the issue! You will notice that the 'evidence' she now relies on is all v recent, or even future ("there's more data coming out at the end of this year") - none of what she deemed a decade ago sufficient to block the fortification.

It's annoying to hear from Kitschley, and her raving ally on TV3 this morning, the ignorant line that folic acid is a chemical whereas folate is a vitamin. I know of no reason to think the folic acid used in supplements is functionally different from the natural vitamin.

I believe the potential coalition of scientists & medicos on the side of reason & justice in this issue would be extremely strong, but has yet to be formed, and with infotainment barons like Holmes® making mischief the influence of science is far less than it used to be. Dr Dixon, whose NZMJ article is reproduced below, said on TV3 this morning that folate decreases, not increases, cancer rates; a relevant prof of the Otago med sch said on TV news last night that a comprehensive literature survey by Oxford U experts had concluded there's no proven effect - which is what would be expected for small doses of a water-soluble vitamin.

The legal context is the much-disputed surrendering of NZ control over food standards (we count roughly like one Australian state on the dubious regulatory body ANZFA). I agree with Kitschley on this politico-legal issue. That our minister of food standards, and now our prime minister (stampeded by Holmes®) are trying to evade the ANZFA decision for folate fortification in most bread is welcome in the sense that it constitutes some publicity for the wrongfulness of our losing control over food standards.

ENDS

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