Media Release 15 July 2009 - PSNZ/RACP NZ Paediatric and Child Health Division
Mandatory Bread Fortification with Folate
The Paediatric Society of New Zealand and the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, New Zealand Paediatric & Child Health Division strongly support the mandatory fortification of bread with folate. Folate is essential for human health and reproduction and the modern New Zealand diet does not contain sufficient folate.
We strongly support the introduction of the new food standard, which will see folic acid added to bread. The introduction of this standard is the result of over 20 years of research. Fifty-seven countries already have mandatory folate fortification including the whole of North America.
The recent propaganda campaign has convinced many New Zealanders into believing that they are being "medicated" against their will. This is not the case. There are benefits for all New Zealanders.
Folic acid and folate are essentially the same nutrient
Folate is an essential nutrient which we all need for our bodies to function properly.
If women have a diet low in folate around the time of conception and early pregnancy, their unborn child is at risk of the nervous system not developing properly. Doctors call the problems with development neural tube defects of which the most common is generally known as "spina bifida". An intake of around 600 micrograms per day in early pregnancy ensures that the unborn child's nervous system develops correctly.
Low folate intake in early pregnancy is also a factor in some congenital heart defects.
While some women plan their pregnancies and can benefit from education about diet in pregnancy, many do not and do not realise that they are pregnant until the crucial period of organ development has already taken place. Any educational campaign will therefore be ineffective. Many studies have demonstrated that such campaigns do not reduce the birth of affected children nor reduce the number of terminations performed.
Opponents of mandatory folate fortification correctly point out that there has been a significant drop in the number of infants born with spina bifida. This is because almost all women have an ultrasound scan in mid pregnancy, and most infants with spina bifida can be diagnosed by this scan. The majority of women whose infant is diagnosed with spina bifida choose termination of pregnancy. Most statistics quoted in NZ refer to livebirths and stillbirths only and do not include the number of terminations performed for NTD's (Neural Tube Defects.)
Neural tube defects result in significant costs to the health and disability sectors. These costs can be avoided if neural tube defects are prevented. These savings will benefit all New Zealanders.
Costs of termination of pregnancy:
Later health problems for those women who have terminations
Costs of care for individuals with neural tube defects:
Multiple operations and hospital admissions
Support in schools
Disability support including respite care for families and provisional of personal care to the individual.
The cost benefits are clear. In the US it is estimated by the baking industry that folate fortification adds about 25 cents to the cost of bread per person per year .This is minimal relative to the costs of care for affected children over a lifetime.
With regard to the risks of potential negative health impacts, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has noted that all the recent studies looking at risks of cancer do not relate to flour fortification, but to high dose supplements. The WHO notes that, at the level of fortification planned140 micrograms/100g of flour there is no evidence of negative health effects. Folate intake in the quantities the proposed fortification will achieve is protective against bowel cancer developing, but consumption of additional high dose folate supplements may accelerate the growth of bowel cancers that are already established. People should seek advice about the value of high dose supplements from their family doctor.
Emotive terms such as "mass medication" have created the impression that folate is being added to bread in attempt to medicate people against their will. Wheat already contains folate. The processing of wheat into flour removes much of the natural folate. Fortification merely replenishes a natural nutrient which has been taken out by manufacture.
The suggestion that women would have to eat 11 slices of bread a day to reach levels adequate to prevent neural tube defects is a distortion of the facts. This would be the case if women were only to eat bread and nothing else. In New Zealand most women consume about 200 micrograms of folate each day from a wide variety of sources including fortified foods. This is well below the recommended 400-1000 micrograms recommended as daily intake. Folic acid fortification in bread will add another 140 micrograms maximum, still below the recommended daily intake. The goal of fortification is to ensure that those who are about to become pregnant or are in early pregnancy consume sufficient folate to minimize the likelihood of a baby being born with a congenital abnormality.
Healthy children benefit all New Zealanders. They are the workforce and taxpayers of the future. We need them to care for us as we age. As a nation, we should warmly congratulate those decision- makers that have looked to the future and introduced this important public health measure. We are very hopeful that in time the Baking Industry will also take pleasure in their important role in improving the health of New Zealanders.
Rosemary Marks 021 492 218
President, Paediatric Society of NZ
Joanne Dixon 021 904 924
Johan Morreau 0274 803 874
Chair, New Zealand Paediatric & Child Health Division, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians
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