Public Debate likely to ensue over our daily bread

Over the weekend Sue K was on TVNZ’s Q and A talking about a subject many people and frogs may be unaware of – the fact that as of early September all bread in New Zealand excepting organic bread will be fortified with folic acid.

This decision was taken in 2007 by the previous Labour Government and is aimed at lowering the numbers of children born with neural tube defects in New Zealand.  However while new Zealand is preparing to go ahead with this other countries such as Ireland and the United Kingdom have either pressed pause in mandatorily fortifying bread or are awaiting further scientific reviews.

For those women planning to have children or who may conceive, and, for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy getting enough folic acid is very important. In fact, the United Kingdom’s Food Safety authority points out that just eating food with folate in it is unlikely to be enough and suggests other means of upping a woman’s folate levels. It would be good to see a public health awareness campaign by the Government.

Over in Ireland due to the voluntary fortification across the food sector the Irish Food Safety Authority has held off on implementing a mandatory scheme – there was also concern at the potential for adverse effects to excessive high levels of folic acid.

New Zealand’s Food Safety Minister herself has proposed a ministerial meeting to review the situation – a month after the commencement of mandatory fortification!

One plus out of all this is that the chances are that now there will be a genuine debate around bread fortification and also a raising of awareness around NTDs.

31 thoughts on “Public Debate likely to ensue over our daily bread

  1. The spokesperson for the medical profession says:

    “This government has not yet grown up”

    .. sticky issue, very sticky!

    Key will suffer for this.

  2. Gerrit, have you read any of the material in the links or even what I have already written? The folate is needed before a woman realises that she is pregnant. Givden that about half of all pregnancies are unplanned, by the time these women realise that they are pregnant, the damage to the foetus may already have been done. There are hundreds of thousands of sexually-active women of child-bearning ages who could become pregnant.

    Folate is not a medication – it is Vitamin B9 a.k.a. Vitamin M, so it is a dietary supplement. It occurs naturally in wheat, but is removed when that wheat is refined into white flour. This fortification is merely replacing what the bakers have stripped out. It is required by growing cells, so since cancer cells are cells whose growth is out of control, it isn’t surprising that it may lead to increased rates of cancer growth. However NTDs are NOT the only condition which is worsened by below-RDA levels of folate. Most of the population could benefit from increased folate levels.

    Trevor.

  3. Gerrit says:

    Rubbish, pregnant women in conjunction with their trained medical professional are easily placed on a folic acid treatment if required.

    All it takes is PERSONAL responsibility by the pregnant woman to seek out the medical advice.

    Which might sound reasonable, until you think about the need for folates to be present in the woman before and at the time of conception.
    PERSONAL responsibility? Hmmm…

  4. I understand that folic acid is much higher in wholegrain bread than in white bread. Does the naturally-occuring folate in wholegrain bread have the same potential side effects as added folate in white bread?

    If there’s a difference in effect, is it just because the fortified white bread has more?

  5. trevor29,

    I call it a tragedy for the families of those going to be affected by NTDs in those 3 years, and a long-term drain on our health and welfare budgets.

    Rubbish, pregnant women in conjunction with their trained medical professional are easily placed on a folic acid treatment if required.

    All it takes is PERSONAL responsibility by the pregnant woman to seek out the medical advice.

    No need for ALL members of the public to take folic acid for just those few women who MIGHT need it.

    I suppose next will be high blood pressure medicine, a reasonably high number of people are on that type of medicine. Why not put it in the bread as well?

    And how about high cholestoral medicine, we have a supposed obesity epidemic so why not add that to bread (or KFC), and how about the resultant diabetes problem, lets add that medicine to the bread.

    Where do you stop taking care of every problem in society by mass mediciation. And where do you say to people, it is your INDIVIDUAL responsibility to take the best medicine (on the advice of the health provider) to take care of your own well being.

    Mind you, mass medication of Ritalin might make us all a bit more maniable to each other.

  6. michaela said:
    Fortifying bread with folic acid is unecessary and nothing more than a scam to make extra profits for the manufacturers.

    This sounds plausible at first hearing, but it is actually the opposite. The bread manufacturers are opposing it because it would cut into their profits (they believe) due to a combination of increased costs to them and reduced sales to people who want to avoid extra folate. The recent claim from their association that delaying fortification is a victory for common sense backs this view.

    The people pushing for fortification are the health authorities, who can see the statistics for and against folate fortification and the benefits shown in the dozens of countries that have already introduced it.

    Trevor.

  7. Key’s callous action will result in the birth of who knows how many spinally damaged babies. You could say. If you were fomenting mischief.

  8. Folic acid has been shown to reduce the risk of babies being born with defects such as spina bifida, but bakers say women would need to eat at least 11 slices of bread a day to make a difference to the health of their unborn child.

    This just illustrates the lack of science in the claims from the bakers. The 11-slices a day figure is derived from the number of slices needed to obtain the RDA from bread alone. Unless a person is on a really bad diet and therefore likely to have obvious health problems, they will be obtaining a significant portion of the RDA already. And even if they only eat one or two slices of bread a day and the fortified bread does not top up that level of folic acid to the RDA, it will make a difference to their health and the possibilities of NTDs and other defects in their offspring.

    Trevor.

  9. I heard a sound-bite on the news this morning saying that Key had put a 3-year delay on the manditory fortification of bread with folic acid. The Bakers Association called this “a triump for common sense”. I call it a tragedy for the families of those going to be affected by NTDs in those 3 years, and a long-term drain on our health and welfare budgets.

    The problem hasn’t gone away with this announcement. The New Zealand diet is below the recommended daily allowance for folic acid and it shows in our NTD rates.

    Trevor.

  10. fin said:
    “the molybdenum was applied as directed by experts who said it was needed.”

    As an expert who has often been misinterpreted, I wonder what actually happened.

    Were the original experts that recommended some form of molybdenum supplementation subsequently found to be wrong, or did the molybdenum actually do what it was intended to do?

    Were those the same experts as the experts that supplied the directions regarding adding the molybdenum to the fertilizer, or were they even consulted with respect to the rates?

    Were the fertilizer applicators actually following those directions or did they apply more than needed to be sure?

    Trevor.

  11. Owen said,
    “That too is why farmers up north have to inject cows with copper – it it not because they don’t eat enough greens.”

    Some soils are low in copper, however the main reason for copper deficiency in NZ is because we put too much molybdenum on with the fert in years gone by. This binds the copper and makes it unabsorbable.
    This point may be quite relavent to the discussion as the molybdenum was applied as directed by experts who said it was needed.

  12. Trevor,
    As I said, I would buy fortified bread at times without much thought. However my supplement taking is not regular so I’m unlikely to be overdoing anything…
    To decide whether the study or the review holds most weight would require more reading than I’m up for.
    I think you have got the point though. People generally don’t like being told what to do/eat. You can tell me to “just do it” and the govt can tell me to “just eat it”, but I make my own bread so unless it’s going into the flour…
    What was your veiw re the healthy food in schools thing?

  13. fin,

    One study of 640 men found “folic acid users were more likely to have developed prostate cancer” but a review of studies of 35,000 people found no increase in cancer risk. Which study is more reliable?

    My earlier (wiki) link included other benefits of folate supplements including eyesight, heart, strokes, men’s fertility, etc.

    The benefits have been proven in many countries.

    To borrow a phrase “Just do it”.

    Trevor.

  14. “Acidophalis yoghurt? Whoop! Whoop!”
    I suspect if you did a market survey you would find that there was a general resistance because of the acid in the name.
    I know there was with me because at that time I was suffering from acidosis.

  15. The problem with expecting pregnant women to take folate supplements is that the damage may already be done to the foetus by the time the woman actually recognises that she is pregnant.

    Trevor.

  16. Apparantly we are low in B9 in our diet just as we are low in copper and Selenium.
    I don’t know why we are low in B9.
    But we have to recognise that there are times when eating the right vegies is not enough. New Zealand soils are dreadfully short of selenium and if the selenium is not in the soil you won’t find it in the vegies. That too is why farmers up north have to inject cows with copper – it it not because they don’t eat enough greens.
    So every now and then I take a selenium supplement to keep my skin healthy.
    When my aging mother began to suffer ulcers etc when she cut or damaged her skin I recommended selenium pills and the improvement was dramatic.

    I believe brazil nuts are high in selenium so you can eat them if you don’t want to buy the Healtheries pills.

    I don’t approve of nanny interventions but if they do put folic acid in bread I won’t lose any sleep over it. It is only replacing the B9 lost in processing the wheat into flour.

    When I went to grow olives I soon learned that if you live on soil once covered in Kauri forest there will be virtually no boron in the soil. Kauri are notorious for stripping out the trace elements. So we add boron to the soil because otherwise the olives are hopeless. Same with Citrus. They both get yellow leaf.

  17. Fortifying bread with folic acid is unecessary and nothing more than a scam to make extra profits for the manufacturers. Humans are evolved to sufficient vitamin B9 from a natural, mainly vegetarian diet, especially green vegetables rather than the fast food highly processed modern diet

    All that was ever necessary was an awareness campaign directed at pregnant women. It could have been done quite cheaply through Plunket and the local medical practices; the fruit and vegetable growers might even have been willing to help fund it. Of course the fast food/supermarket industry would have hated it.

  18. Given that I (and I ASSume a lot of other folks) are going to want added-folic-acid-free loafage, that is bad news…

    Or perhaps the breadmaker will get a lot more use than it does today. I do confess its nice coming down to breakfast with the aroma of freshly baked bread, but its a laziness question. But if organic bread is “expensive” then perhaps a breadmaking we will go…?

    What about speciality loafs? We’re currently partial to Cafe brand thick sultana’d toasting bread are there any exeptions for stuff like that?

  19. dbuckley Says:
    July 14th, 2009 at 12:14 pm

    > If the entire NZ breadmaking apparatus switched to organic then this would all become a non-issue at a stroke. And as every manufacturer is doing it there should be little or no impact on pricing.

    on the contrary, the price would skyrocket due to a shortage of organic flour.

    It takes 2 years to convert a wheat farming operation from ‘conventional’ to organic, and if they all did it at once that would be a lot of wheat farmers competing for the same people to pass on their expertise on how to grow wheat organically.

  20. Trevor,
    from your link “one study which tracked 640 men found that 10 years later, folic acid users were more likely to have developed prostate cancer.”

    If there was bread at the supermarket with ‘added folate’, I may well buy it at times.

    However this is surely the Nanny Nats, holding hands with the Aunty Helen’s legacy. There is no Red or Blue, just boring grey. At least the publicity may encourage some incubating women to eat healthily… or take supplements.

  21. Any word with acid in it causes alarm.

    Acidophalis yoghurt? Whoop! Whoop!

    I’m with dbuckley and then some. Commercial breads are by and large, dreadful now. Organic breads are vastly better. We eat far too much bread, as a nation, and far too much wheat. Alternatives are where it’s at for improving health (and beating obesity while we are at it). Owen has the answer to low folate levels with his vegetable suggestions.

  22. If we are all as outraged as we appear to be, then the answer – today – is organic bread.

    If the entire NZ breadmaking apparatus switched to organic then this would all become a non-issue at a stroke. And as every manufacturer is doing it there should be little or no impact on pricing.

    Thus our cosy duopoly of food suppliers could do something for the people, for once…?

  23. Terrifying to see how quickly a falsehood becomes a fact.
    TVOne had someone make the claim that pregnant women needed to eat eleven slices of fortified bread to get their daily does.
    NONSENSE.
    This would be true ONLY if you eat nothing else.
    The average person gets about 65% of the “pregnant” dose from green vegetables, nuts, orange juice and lightly processed grains. It only takes about 2 to 3 slices of bread to top this up to the pregnant women desired dose. Those who don’t eat any green vegetables might make up for it by eating more hamburger buns.
    This does not mean I endorse the proposal but people cannot have a sensible debate if their are feed factoids instead of facts.
    Folic acid used to be called vitamin B9. Any word with acid in it causes alarm.
    I would have stuck with Vitamin B9.

  24. I’m with the Greens.

    This is lose-lose, surely. Women may think they’re doing enough by eating a few slices of bread, when that dose may not be sufficient, whilst others may ingest too much of something that may cause harm.

  25. Use of the term “mass medication” is emotive. Folate is an essential B-group vitamin (B9), not a medication. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Folic_acid

    The Irish have decided not to pursue manditory fortification but the reason is illustrative – voluntary fortification is high enough across a range of foods so that there is no further benefit from manditory fortification.

    I don’t know what levels of folate are like in New Zealand foods, so I don’t know how much benefit we would get from manditory fortification.

    The risks associated with folate fortification are proportional to the folate levels as are the benefits. People who argue that one or two slices of fortified bread wouldn’t make much difference to a pregnant woman are also argueing that one or two slices of the same bread wouldn’t pose much risk to men like me, and I for one am prepared to take that risk. After all, NTDs are for the life of the child and have a much bigger impact on society than prostate cancer on a case by case comparison.

    Trevor.

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