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Foilc acid debate reignited

Published: 12:18PM Sunday July 12, 2009 Source: Q + A

The decision to add folic acid to bread despite new evidence of possible health risks has been slammed by Green MP Sue Kedgley in a heated debate on TVNZ's Q + A programme .

Kedgley told Paul Holmes on Sunday morning that New Zealand has lost its food sovereignty and it is stupid to go ahead with a form of "mass medication" in September followed by a probable review in October.

But Food Safety Minister Kate Wilkinson says she is bound by the Food Act and the agreement made with Australia four years ago.

It is part of a move by the previous Labour government to prevent birth defects, like spina bifida.

However there are now concerns that children will consume too much.

Recent research also shows folic acid can increase the risk of prostate cancer, that's prompted Ireland and the UK to put mandatory fortification plans on hold.

Kedgley says it is a terrible situation for the minister to proceed with "some silly treaty with Australia" signed several years ago despite new scientific evidence indicating pre-cancerous tumours and cells may have their growth accelerated if you give them folic acid. She says the standard should be flexible enough to allow for a delay, like in Britain and Ireland, if new evidence indicates a problem.

Wilkinson says she disagrees with the decision but the amount to be added to bread is deemed to be at safe levels. She says what is unclear is the risks involved and the science is "a bit light" on that.

Wilkinson says it is important not to be alarmist and Australia doesn't seem to have the same concerns as other countries. She says the Prime Minister and foreign minister have been in contact with their counterparts across the Tasman and a ministerial council review in October would be done in three months.

The United States and Canada have been adding folic acid to some breads for years but Kedgley says US consumers have a choice while in New Zealand it would be added to all bread.

And Kedgley points out that bakers will incur significant costs to implement the ruling which could later be overturned.

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