Folic acid may go into half of NZ bread

As much as half of all bread sold could still contain folic acid under plans to replace a compulsory regime with a voluntary one.

The Government looks set to back out of a deal done with Australia to force the addition of folic acid to bread and bread products, after Prime Minister John Key signalled a three-year moratorium yesterday.

While the Government says it will seek feedback on the moratorium and other options before a final decision is made, by signalling that a moratorium is its preferred option, Mr Key has effectively called a halt to the compulsory regime.

It was due to come into effect in September, requiring the addition of folic acid to the equivalent of about four million loaves of bread a week.

Bakers Association president Laurie Powell said a moratorium was the preferred option of bakers.

"It gives us time to debate all the issues and the opportunity to put in a very targeted ... voluntary plan to fortify potentially up to about 50 per cent of the breads. And also time to work with the various interest groups."

But Lyall Thursday, spokesman for a lobby group for parents of children with spina bifida, accused the Government of buckling to scaremongering.

Amid the more heated debate, there had been claims of a folic acid link to cancer by business lobbyists. But none of the claims stood up to scrutiny, Mr Thurston said.

"I don't know how they sleep at night. I'm absolutely disgusted."

Currently, less than 10 per cent of bread is fortified with folic acid an additive that is shown by studies to reduce the risk of babies being born with defects such as spina bifida.

But Mr Powell said demand was likely to grow if there was also a public education campaign.

"We believe we can put folic acid in about 50 per cent of our breads and we can put it in at a higher rate for those targeted ones than in fact the compulsory regime was going to do."

That meant women would have to eat fewer slices of bread than they would have had to under the compulsory regime to gain any benefit from the extra folic acid.

It was estimated that women would have had to consume about 11 slices of bread a day to get the full benefit. Most women ate an average of only one-and-a-half slices a day, Mr Powell said.

Companies like his were also looking at putting folic acid into a budget range of breads to reach lower socio-economic groups as well.

"But under any regime you would still have to take supplements and that was one of the issues we had concerns about that if a lot of ladies thought they were getting their daily dose, they'd stop taking the supplements and we'd have an even bigger problem."

The Dominion Post