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Folic acid fiasco

Written By: - Date published: 2:00 pm, July 14th, 2009 - 30 comments
Categories: food, health, labour, national/act government - Tags:

Wilkinson Key white breadI just don’t see why medicating an entire population to prevent a handful of spina bifida cases, which will only work if women eat far more bread than they do, is a good idea. It’s such a grossly untargeted and unsophisticated approach.

Saying ‘well many women don’t get enough folic acid and many pregnancies are unplanned so let’s give it to them some other way’ might be well and good, if people ate bread in the quantities that are necessary for this dosing to work and it was proven to be safe. But they don’t, and it isn’t. Given that, why are we, against the public will, carrying out a population-wide health experiment by injecting yet another chemical into our diets?

Why not just let bakers do what they propose, have lines of bread with folic acid and lines without? Women could be encouraged to take the folate bread but it wouldn’t be forced on everyone.

Frankly, this was a case where Labour got it badly wrong (and they’ll be kicking themselves for reconfirming that position last week). It displayed all the overbearing, we-know-best traits that their enemies have so successfully exploited in the past with their ‘nanny state’ rhetoric.

But there’s no use blaming the last government. The Key government is the one with the responsibility to act now. It simply beggars belief to hear Food Safety Minister Kate Wilkinson on one hand saying she doesn’t want folic acid to be mandatory in bread and on the other hand attacking the concerns of those who want her to stop it happening.

It’s just not credible to say that there’s nothing she and Key can do. They have had 7 months and have a couple more in which they could get an exemption from the Aussies or, if needed, pass a simple piece of legislation overruling the standard. A least have this ministerial review Wilkinson is promising before the standard comes into effect.

Instead, Key and Wilkinson are pulling the possum-in-the-headlights imitation and blaming Labour. It’s a pattern that’s becoming all too familiar from a government that is failing to govern.

30 comments on “Folic acid fiasco”

  1. The idea that women will ‘need to eat far more bread than they need’ is fallacious. Vitamin B9 would come from other sources as well.
    Compared to what they put into bread allready its a normal part of living in an advanced society And no its not an ‘experiment’ this has been done successfully for some time elsewhere.
    Next you will be saying ‘end flouridation’, ban Xrays’ ‘stop blood transfusions’

    • Anita 1.1

      Yeah, the “women will need to eat 11 slices of bread a day” is pure spin, Katherine Rich spin even 🙂

      People get folate from other sources, this will simply increase it taking more soon-to-be-pregnant women over the line from sub-optimal to optimal.

      There are plenty of good arguments against mandatory fortification which don’t involve buying the bread lobby’s spin.

  2. Quoth the Raven 2

    The cost of this to businesses is not something that the “left” often talks about, but this kind of regulation that puts greater cost on to small businesses. Larger businesses are better able to absorb such a cost. We should be concerned about small businesses if we don’t want a large corporate dominated market and regulations like this should be considered as to how they may or may not further tilt the balance in favour of large businesses.

    • BLiP 2.1

      Lets hope the best of the smaller bakers are also the smartest and “go organic”.

      Such a transition from foreign corporate-supplied soy pap to New Zealand-grown organic produce would be a boon to the country. Economically and evenironmentally.

      Its a chance for consumers to act like citizens for a change and claim back the sovereignty of their daily bread.

      What’s the chances, I wonder.

  3. Wrangle 3

    ‘end flouridation’, ban Xrays’ ‘stop blood transfusions’

    except those things have significant positive effects for a great many people.

    Here, we’re talking about medicating an entire population to benefit (not even save the lives of) a few people a year.

  4. toad 4

    ghostwhowalks said: Next you will be saying ‘end flouridation’, ban Xrays’ ‘stop blood transfusions’

    I agree we should end fluoridation too ghost (but not the other two you cite). Like folic acid in bread, fluoridation is mass medication, and I find that unacceptable. I agree both have health advantages (at least for some people), but I don’t see how that justifies forcing them on everyone.

    • Draco T Bastard 4.1

      Because it helps maintain the health of the entire society and not just those that can afford it. It also decreases costs in the future.

      • Noko 4.1.1

        That’s bullshit.

        Fluoridation in water barely helps your teeth (protip: fluoride has to be applied topically, as in tooth paste to work) simple drinking it and hoping it’ll work doesn’t.

      • Anita 4.1.2

        Draco T Bastard,

        Because it helps maintain the health of the entire society and not just those that can afford it. It also decreases costs in the future.

        So would mandatory weekly iron injections and mandatory hormonal contraception for teenagers and and and

        With each public health intervention there are pros and cons when calculating justification, and this one is pretty finally balanced. I come down on the not-justified side partly because it’s mandatory (I’d be ok with default fortification as long as there was a realistic opt out option) and smacks of nutritionism (which I think is part of the problem, not the solution).

  5. Evidence-Based Practice 5

    I understand that this policy came about after much lobbying from public health advocates – particularly in Australia but also here – who were very concerned about preventing neural tube defects particularly in children whose mothers are unlikely to carefully take folic acid supplements before a planned pregnancy. It was seen as the easiest way to reach the target population (although of course not the gluten intolerant), without any negative effects. So there is scientific evidence behind it.

    • Bright Red 5.1

      No-one’s saying it doesn’t help reduce neural tube defects. The question is weather putting folic acid in everyone’s bread is the best way to help those few people.

  6. Tigger 6

    This whole ‘Labour were wrong to do it yet we’re going to do it anyway but it’s really Labour’s fault’ line is worn through.

    National, it’s no good blaming Labour for something that is entirely within your power to fix. Grow a backbone and either make a change or stop whining. You’re the government, start acting like it.

  7. Draco T Bastard 7

    …by injecting yet another chemical into our diets?

    Um, dude, it’s b9 – you know, a vitamin that’s essential to our over all good health? Calling it a chemical may help get people upset about this mass medication but you really should tell people what it really is – just another part of an essential diet.

    Hell, this post comes across as another dog-whistle.

  8. Jasper 8

    From a diabetics point of view, it’s shocking.

    Folic Acid has adverse reactions with the insulin injected multiple times daily by type one diabetics.
    Some extreme cases have proven that folic acid being consumed by population groups not needing extra supplements actually hinder the absorption of insulin into the bloodstream.

    All laid out with references in my submission to select committee, but still, it went through.

    Will this be ALL bread products? Anything with yeast? What constitutes bread? Are crumpets included? Pikelets?

    Or just your standard loaf style?

    • Luxated 8.1

      http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/591111?sssdmh=dm1.458066&src=nldne

      Also a possible relationship between folic acid (as in fortified foods) and colon cancer, although there also seems to be evidence that dietary folate (natural levels of folate) protects against colorectal cancer.

      Seems like more investigation is needed before action can be taken.

      Jasper my understanding is that the folate will be in the yeast, even the stuff you buy for your own baking. I assume organic yeast is exempt.

  9. mike 9

    Whats even worse is Annette “fullmoon” King didn’t even allow debate on the matter, “a no-brainer” was the term used – how apt. Democracy under attack?

    Give JK some time to fix this – it’s is only one of many feck-ups he was handed by the sinking ship..

    • snoozer 9.1

      How much time does Key’s government need for even simple things like getting rid of a standard that they themselves don’t want? It’s going to take them a year just to get around to reviewing it.

      Can’t these guys walk and chew gum? Actually, can’t they just walk or chew gum? Because at the moment they’re just sitting around doing nothing.

  10. r0b 10

    Not often that I disagree with you Eddie, and I don’t have time for a debate today, but just briefly, I don’t get the hysteria over folic acid.

    “Medicating” the population is just rhetoric, it’s no more medication than citric acid or vitamin C. Why get worked up over folic acid when the we accept (with the same debatable issues) fluoride in water, iodine in salt, or much more dodgy issue of food additives such as monosodium glutamate? And for goodness sake no one is claiming that the whole RDA has to come from bread!

    I accept that there are health risks as well as the benefits, but these were not known at the time that Labour got this thing moving, so it’s a tad unfair to say that they got it “badly wrong”. How badly wrong is it to let kids die of preventable causes?

    There’s a thoughtful and balanced discussion of the whole folic acid issue here:
    http://www.pundit.co.nz/content/to-folate-or-not-to-folate

  11. George D 11

    Now showing in cinemas: Revenge of the Nanny State Meme!

    You thought it was dead, unable to claim victims… this monster has a life of its own!

  12. Mike 12

    This is the most ridiculous and fact-free ‘controversy’ since the section 59 repeal.
    What next, banning orange juice and green vegetables because of ‘deadly’ folic acid?
    Time to start pretending I’m Australian again.

  13. nanny state ??
    Thats why they have had it for years in the US. The home of the nanny state

  14. gobsmacked 14

    Tigger is right, above. It’s the way this government makes decisions (or doesn’t) that is so pathetic.

    Tenable positions:

    1) Benefits outweight risks.(pro)

    2) Risks outweigh benefits. (anti)

    3) Regardless of risks/benefits, not the role of gov’t (therefore anti, on ideological grounds)

    Not a tenable position:

    Ignore both science and principle, just follow the noise of the crowd, like Mayor Quimby at a town hall meeting.

    I know nothing about folic acid. But I expect the people in charge to make sure they do know, and to make a decision on that basis, not just because of the latest headlines in a slow news week. And then to bloody well stand up for it, not bleat about the opposition party.

    It’s a joke. All spin. No spine.

  15. Spectator 15

    I would have more sympathy for the poor, hard done by bakers if they didn’t already load their “bread” up with so much sugar that it might as well be called “cake”. Almost all bread these days is barely suitable for making a savoury sandwich, to the extent that they sometimes taste like someone had accidentally spilled sugar or jam on the plate before making it.

    I’d rather eat bread fortified by a vitamin – even though I have no intention of ever getting pregnant – than eat bread as full of sugar as modern New Zealand bread is.

  16. BLiP 16

    What gives me the shits about this fiasco is that the manufacturers of the New Zealand folic acid supplement are based in a country not widely recognised here as a trusted supplier of anything! All we need is a greedy corporate, a couple of corrupt officials and the Fonterra Board and who knows what we’re all gonna be eating!

    And what about folic acid masking low B12 levels and thus putting the elderly more at risk of going ga-ga much quicker!

    This whole thing stinks!

    That purse-lipped, front-row parishioner at the altar of Our Lady Of The Truely Thick who dares to call her self the Minister of Food Safety – she’s gotta go.

  17. Flipper 17

    BLiP is spot on. The proposed form of folate to be added to bread is not the natural type but is another unproven and synthetic product. Even in the UK and Ireland, the only two EU states that allow drinking water to be fluoridated (conned just like you Antipodeans in the 1950s !) their public health ‘experts’ have learned the lesson of mass fluoridation and have backed off mandatory fortification of bread with folic acid because of unintended health effects.

    Folic acid fortification has already been dubbed FLUORIDATION MARK II. It is the same spurious health argument about simply increasing the level of a ‘natural’ substance in food/water but without telling you that the additive is completely different in form AND has not been proven safe. In the case of toxic fluorosilicates, they have not even been toxicologically tested. Don’t be duped by this flipper from Oz on yet another US-originating wheeze.

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