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FGC’s Folic Acid Fortification Stance Based On The Science

The New Zealand Food & Grocery Council notes the
Government’s decision today to mandate the addition of
folic acid to flour.

Members of FGC have been
voluntarily fortifying bread for many years now.

will support its members to meet the Government’s target
in 2023. It will be easier to achieve coverage by fortifying
bread flour rather than by batches of bread.

we are disappointed the Minister for Food Safety refers to
FGC’s previous points as “spurious” and
“misinformation” when our information presented during
the debate some years ago came from some of the world’s
most authoritative sources and remains a matter of record on
our website

FGC has always called for all the
risks and benefits to the whole population to be taken into
account because it’s always a major decision to amend a
national food supply.

The information that anchored
our position was drawn from two of the world’s most
eminent researchers in the subject: University of Oxford
University researchers Emeritus
Professor David Smith
(the Chair and Head of
Pharmacology at Oxford from 1984 -2005), and Human Nutrition
professor Dr
Helga Refsum

At the time they had around 50
papers on the topic of folic acid and had raised legitimate
concerns about blanket mandatory fortification without
considering all the risks. The benefits and risks associated
with exposing the whole population (men, elderly, children)
to increased levels of folic acid are discussed in these
papers and reports.

We encouraged Ministry for Primary
Industries officials to have direct, expert-to-expert
discussions with them but there appeared to be no interest
in this.

Prof Smith read and largely supported
Professor Gluckman’s report. They had drawn on most of the
same papers and conclusions. Where they differed was in
their scientific opinions on the potential harms of exposing
all non-targets for the fortification with the additive and
the absolute numbers of potential cancers.

All other
information pointed to by FGC also came from authoritative
sources, including New Zealand Food Safety Authority, Food
Standards Australia New Zealand, Otago University, and Parliamentary
, where at the time the Minister for Food
Safety estimated the daily intake would require 11 slices of

Our caution has always been based on evidence
of concerns about:

  • expected and potential
    over-consumption by non-target population groups, most New
    Zealanders, and especially children 1 to 8 years old. We
    were uncomfortable at the level of overconsumption by
    5-8-year-olds and very concerned at the prospect of younger
    children being even more exposed to exceeding the upper
    allowable limit. This is why we encouraged the Government to
    consider this before any final decision.
  • the
    interaction of a high folate status and low vitamin B12 with
    respect to cognitive function
  • the impact of
    unmetabolised folic acid circulating in the blood. Again,
    our last submission to the Ministry asked that this be

In our submission in 2019 we asked
the Government to consider these issues, particularly
relating to the overconsumption by children, elderly, men
etc. The Government has announced its decision, so has
clearly weighed up all potential benefits and all harms
taking the whole population into account.

often made clear our support of folate and its role in
nutrition. Folate is an important part of the diet,
particularly for women of child-bearing age. However,
commentators and government representatives often use folate
and folic acid interchangeably when they are similar, but
not the same. Folate, a natural B vitamin, is essential for
good health. Folic acid (pteroylmonoglutamic acid) is a
synthetic and most chemically stable form of

It is accepted folic acid can have both
positive and detrimental effects. This point was made in the
Royal Society report: “2.2 Cancer The evidence suggests
that folate may have both protective and detrimental health
effects in relation to cancer, and its ultimate effect
depends on both the level of intake (i.e. dose), and the
absence or presence of precancerous lesions13 and
established tumours (i.e. timing of exposure) [46]. Thus,
adequate folate is essential to maintain normal function of
healthy cells, but high folate levels may accelerate the
growth of pre-existing tumours (Appendix”

There’s another important issue
regarding today’s decision.

The data on what New
Zealanders eat is wildly out of date. The National Nutrition
Survey for children was last completed in 2002, and for
adults 2008. Industry, academics, and officials have been
united on lobbying for a new survey. Without up-to-date
information, the Government runs the risk of flying blind on
critical decisions about nutrition and the food

Since fortification campaigns began, folic
acid has been added by the food industry to a range of other
grocery products, including breakfast cereals and to bread
on a voluntary basis. Between 38% – 50% of all bread,
including half of packaged bread, is already

We told the Government it needed advice on
how much folic acid was already in the food supply before
further intervention. Prof Smith advised that with current
fortification rates and blood folate levels in the New
Zealand population, further benefits of mandatory
fortification were likely to be

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