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Folic acid will be added to most bread-making flour.
The Government will mandate that folic acid is added to bread-making flour in a bid to protect babies.
The B Vitamin will not be added to organic and non-wheat flours, meaning consumers will be able to avoid folic acid if they wish to.
Associate Health Minister Dr. Ayesha Verrall made the announcement on Thursday morning, saying low folate levels harmed infants.
“This is about protecting babies. Low folate levels in mothers cause neural tube defects that result in the death of babies, or life-long disability,” Verrall said.
“New Zealand’s rate of NTDs remains too high compared to other countries who have a mandatory fortification approach, such as Australia, Canada, and the United States.”
“A little over half of pregnancies in New Zealand are unplanned, so it’s not practical for all women to take a folic acid supplement one month before they conceive – to reduce the risk of these conditions,” she said.
“Introducing mandatory fortification is a safe way to ensure women of childbearing age are supported to increase their folic acid consumption.
The last Labour Government began moves to introduce folic acid in bread, but these were scuppered when National came to power, with the industry heavily opposed to the move.
Australia went ahead and added folic acid at that time, and has seen a decline of neural tube defects.
New Zealand currently has around 10.6 neural tube defects per 10,000 births, compared to 8.7 in Australia.
Verrall also made moves earlier this year to mandate fluoride in drinking water across the country.