Bread additive call 'up to NZ'

Last updated 05:00 15/07/2009

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New Zealand has effectively been given the green light to axe rules forcing bakers to add folic acid to bread from September.

The office of Australian parliamentary secretary for health Mark Butler told The Dominion Post it was New Zealand's call whether to proceed with the trans-Tasman standard, agreed in 2007.

"Whilst the Australian Government will maintain a keen interest in what New Zealand decides, decisions on New Zealand standards are the responsibility of the New Zealand Government. As permitted under the [food] treaty, New Zealand has opted out of the joint standard and so their standard is nothing to do with the Australian Government."

The standards differ because in New Zealand folic acid must be added to all bread except organic and unleavened loaves during baking, while in Australia it must be added to flour for bread at the milling stage.

Though the trans-Tasman food treaty involves the eight Australian state and territory governments as well as the federal administration, Mr Butler's view that New Zealand can steer its own course is significant.

It will give the Government here considerable confidence as it examines options to cancel the standard in favour of a voluntary regime, which National favours.

Prime Minister John Key made it clear yesterday that he did not want the mandatory addition of folic acid to proceed, and said he had asked Crown Law for urgent advice on the consequences of pulling out.

Folic acid reduces chances of birth defects such as spina bifida.

Pressure to axe the standard grew this week after renewed claims of possible links between folic acid and prostate and colon cancers. However, new research casts doubt on the cancer claims.

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- The Dominion Post

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