In accordance with a Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) proposal, it has been Legislated that all wheat flour intended to be used for making bread be supplemented by Millers with Folic Acid by 13th September 2009. This requirement applies to both wheaten bread flour used for commercial bread manufacture and for Retail (Home bake) use. This is a Legislated mandatory requirement.
While Folate is one of the B Group vitamins, and natural Folate is present in many foods and is regarded as an essential vitamin, the Australian Government has decided to Mandate the “fortification” of all conventional flours destined for bread making purposes with a synthetic version of Folate, being Folic Acid. The legislation requires that Folic Acid be added at the rate of between 2 and 3 mg per kilogram of wheat flour intended for making bread. Wheat flour not used for bread making and Organic flour is excluded from this requirement. Non-wheat flours (such as Rye, Buckwheat, etc) are also excluded from this requirement.
However, since Folic Acid must be added to all “wheat flour for making bread”, and “bread” is defined as “the product made by baking a yeast-leavened dough”, and since Millers cannot predict what foods a cook or baker may produce from their flour, Folic Acid must be added by Millers to all flours that may be used for yeast raised products. Therefore it is inevitable that Folic Acid will be included in most conventional baked products except some biscuits.
Please note that the regulating Authorities recognise it is impractical to co-ordinate all production and packaging changes so all flour and flour-containing product comply with legislated requirement on the nominated date. It must also be understood that Folic Acid could not be added prior to the nominated date without specific permission. The Authorities are therefore allowing a “period of grace” to allow for utilisation of stocks, for ingredient inclusion, and for the implementation of packaging changes. It is important to recognise that Authorities will permit the full utilisation of all relevant current packaging.
Folic Acid is difficult to add to flour in the prescribed amounts, and is not the natural form of Folate as found in food, and therefore more risky because of that. It is the Government’s intention that the entire population of Australia will be forced to consume Folic Acid, so as to ensure an increase in the folic acid intake of all woman around time of conception, hoping that the examples of neural tube defects are reduced by perhaps 10 to 30 per year.
What are the downside risks?
While there are known health benefits associated with additional consumption of Folate, researchers are now finding an increasing number of adverse outcomes being associated with Folic Acid consumption.
Children between 2 and 4 years, the elderly, those with cancer and the precursors of cancer, persons taking medication for neurological problems, and the offspring of women over-supplemented with Folic Acid all face an increased degree of risk of adverse outcomes. Thus a significant percentage of the Australian population of about 22 million people will face the risk of adverse health outcomes.
We are not reassured by authorities who suggest that such risks are minimal or non-existent. Consumers will find it difficult to avoid consuming supplemental Folic Acid.
One would have to conclude, in light of the latest knowledge about the downsides of Folic Acid fortification, that the risks outweigh the benefits.
Australia has already successfully increased folic acid consumption. Many specific foods and supplements are available and advertised as containing added folic acid, with these foods and supplements being targeted at those who are expected to directly benefit.
The previous benefits of this targeted Voluntary system are likely to be lost with Mandatory fortification. Women currently taking Folate supplements will probably cease taking their supplements because they are aware of mandatory fortification, and for the same reason current Voluntarily fortified Foods will be less sought and most likely no longer produced by manufacturers.
It is likely that expectant mothers who need the extra folate will end up getting less folate than they were before, and so the number of Neural Tube Defects could actually increase, while at the same time the entire Australian population will be at risk of adverse effects.
In the USA, Mandatory Folic Acid Fortification has existed for more than 10 years. We can learn something from that. Recently there has been calls to increase the fortification rate, because the targeted population groups have actually demonstrated a decline in folic acid levels. This supports the proposition that Mandatory Fortification is less effective than Voluntary.
Unfortunately, while there has been monitoring of the benefits of folic acid, there has been no consideration of or monitoring of any adverse effects. Thus there is no statistical evidence of adverse health effects.
So, we believe that :
Voluntary consumption of Folic Acid should very much be supported and encouraged for the targeted small group of women who will benefit from Folic Acid consumption, with a focus on the education of that group regarding the benefits of Folate and Folic Acid.
Mandatory Fortification of food with Folic Acid must be revoked until proven to be safe and effective.
Mandatory fortification was initiated as a trans-Tasman Food requirement (ie. FSANZ – to apply to Australia and New Zealand equally). As of early August 2009, New Zealand have now reversed that decision. And will now NOT require mandatory fortification with folic acid. 87% of New Zealand’s population do not want folic acid in their food. Ireland have abandoned proposed Mandatory Fortification to Voluntary Fortification due to health risks and uncertainty. The United Kingdom is also reassessing their intention to mandate folic acid fortification. However, the Australian Government appears comfortable with what is currently legislated, and will remain comfortable until consumer pressure changes their perspective.
We do not currently add Folic Acid to our bread flours.
We do NOT intend to conform to the mandated requirement to fortify flour for bread making with Folic Acid.
We have advised the appropriate Ministers that we will not conform and have given them the reasons why we have decided to take this stance. We hope they will understand, accede to our request and re-examine how their well intentioned desire to reduce neural tube defects may be better achieved, and choose to support Voluntary Fortification of individual foods. If they do not, unfortunately we will have to approach the media and hope that enough political pressure is applies to as to make all politicians take notice – though we hope it will not come to that.
I hope this information is of interest to you, and suggest that you should take whatever action you feel appropriate regarding any concerns that you may have.
Should you wish to voice your concerns, the following information should be of assistance (they introduced Mandatory Folate Fortification and are the only ones who can remove it).
Australia and New Zealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council
Membership of the Ministerial Council comprises Health Ministers from most Australian States and Territories, the Australian Government, and New Zealand as well as other Ministers from related portfolios (Primary Industries, Consumer Affairs etc) where these have been nominated by their jurisdictions. All jurisdictions, except New Zealand, have nominated a Lead Minister for voting purposes. New Zealand has nominated their Minister for Food Safety as Lead Minister for voting purposes.
Information provided by Laucke Flour Mills.