Folic acid fortification

13 August 2018

The report, co-authored by the Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor and the Royal Society Te Apārangi, looked at the health benefits and risks of folic acid fortification of food.

Neural Tube Defects (NTDs), including spina bifida, are rare disorders, and fall under NZORD’s umbrella. Unlike other conditions that we cover, about two thirds of them are preventable, and yet successive governments have not taken the necessary steps to address this significant public health issue. We estimate the incidence of preventable neural tube defects in live births to be about 24 cases per year, half of which are associated with a diagnosis of spina bifida, and half with anencephaly (which becomes fatal soon after birth). This means that there are about twelve New Zealanders per year who are unnecessarily destined for a lifetime of disability (with annual childhood rehabilitation costs of about $400,000 per year, and a significant burden of care which is borne by their families), and a further 12 who are denied the right to life altogether. 

Folic acid fortification occurs in over 80 countries (including Australia) and it has proven to be a safe means of improving maternal health and substantially reducing NTDs. 

NZORD has been campaigning for mandatory fortification of bread with folic acid since 2003. NZORD’s recommendation is to implement an effective fortification regime, with likely little or no opposition from the Bakers’ Association, by fortifying flour at the mill rather than bread. This is the regime followed by Australia and many other countries. 

Fortification of flour at the mill would be the easiest implementation method as there are only four or five millers to work with, rather than 2,000 separate bakers. Note that plain flour for organic or other specialty foods could still be sourced separately, like in Australia, so niche brands would not be impacted by this change.

NZORD is calling on the government to take action on this issue.

The Health Benefits and Risks of Folic Acid Fortification of Food (Report PDF)