The trans-Tasman regulator, Food Standards Australia New Zealand, has set 2006 as the year to finalise proposals for the mandatory fortification of the food supply with folic acid and iodine. After an initial public consultation, FSANZ issued draft reports that are currently open for public discussion and it hopes to have the issue decided by year's end. "We are also carrying out extensive dietary modelling, using newly revised collected folic acid nutrient data, to help identify the most appropriate food to fortify as well as appropriate levels of fortification," FSANZ stated.?
As in other parts of the world, mandatory folic acid fortification is being considered to reduce the rates of neural-tube defects such as spina bifida.?"While not all neural-tube defects can be prevented, there is convincing scientific evidence that shows that in some cases, but not all, neural-tube defects can be prevented if women consume at least 400mcg of folic acid a day," the agency said.
FSANZ noted previous initiatives to increase folic acid consumption among women of childbearing age had largely failed. These included health promotion and education, the use of a folate/neural tube defects health claim, providing voluntary folic acid fortification permissions for foods such as breakfast cereals and bread, and policies promoting the intake of folic acid supplements. "We have also commissioned independent expertise to undertake a cost/benefit analysis of the regulatory options," the agency said.??
The regulator was also considering mandatory iodine fortification after studies revealed inadequate iodine intakes among adults, children and pregnant women in the two countries. Iodine deficiency is associated with adverse and often irreversible health effects such as impaired motor skills, hearing and intelligence, especially among developing foetuses, babies and young children.??
In the UK, the Food Standards Agency is consulting on four possible folic acid fortification options. These are:
- maintain the status quo and take no action
- increase the effort to encourage young women to take supplements and increase the consumption of folate-rich foods
- further encourage the voluntary fortification of foods
- implement mandatory fortification of the most appropriate food vehicle.
Folic acid fortification is not mandatory in any European country. In the US, it has been compulsory to add it to grain and flour products since 1998.