Do you support adding folic acid to food?
The decision to add folic acid to food to help raise folate levels in women for child bearing is back on the agenda after the government deferred the issue three years ago, claiming further research was needed.
Research has shown neural tube defects (NTD) in pregnant women are a result of low folate levels, a B vitamin important in cell growth and reproduction. A lack of folate has been linked to diseases like Spina Bifida and in some cases leads to mid-pregnancy terminations.
While in 2007 the government had agreed along with Australia to introduce mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid, just before this began in 2009, our government instead opted for a voluntary regime.
Data from a Growing up in New Zealand study reveals over 61 per cent of women did not take folate acid supplements before becoming pregnant.
Clinical leader of paediatrics at Wellington Hospital, Dr Andrew Marshall, says based on recent research, a voluntary regime is unlikely to give the same benefits as seen in the 63 countries with mandatory folate programs.
It is estimated approximately 75 NTD pregnancies occur in New Zealand each year. Dr Marshall says each year the government delays making folate acid mandatory, it is possible 40 to 50 preventable NTD pregnancies will occur.
Professor Murray Skeaff from the University of Otago recently presented information detailing the introductions of mandatory folate acid to Canada and the US.
Prior to the introduction, the rate of Neural Tube Defects were shown to steadily increase. In Canada, after folate acid in bread was made mandatory, a 46 per cent decline in NTD deaths was recorded.
Similarly in the US, a 36 per cent reduction was seen post introduction.
While concerns have been raised linking folate intake to cancer, professor Skeaff recently presented data which shows no correlation with increased folate consumption and cancer.
Dr Marshall adds folate is a natural substance often stripped from food by excessive processing and poor food choices.
Ministry for Primary Industries has proposed four options:
– Mandatory fortification as defined in current standard, with possible delayed commencement
– Limited mandatory fortification where a threshold is set before mandatory fortification applies
– Mandatory reporting on folic acid fortification
– Voluntary fortification with mandated review in 2015
Closing date for submissions: 16 July 2012