Summary1. Background2. Folate and Folic Acid3. Mandatory Fortification and Consumers4. We must Act
Background• In 2001, the Australian prevalence of neural tubedefects (NTDs) was estimated to be 0.5 per 1,000 births.• Authorities hypothesize that the timely consumptionadditional Folate in the maternal diet may prevent about10 to 30 NTDs per year.• Folic Acid, a chemical construct, has been believed tobe more readily absorbed and beneficial than the Folatederived from natural food. Folate Folic Acid
Background• In 1996 in the U.S.A; the Food and Drug Administration authorized that all enriched cereal grain products be fortified with folic acid. Optional fortification began in March 1996 Mandatory fortification (MFF) began in Jan 1998.• Several other countries fortify flour with folic acid.• Australia has followed this lead, with the process of assessment and institution taking over 6 years, culminating our own unique Standard becoming effective in September of 2009.• There has been no effectively organised or coordinated assessment of the possible downside risks associated with MFF.
Background• My wife and I, as consumers appreciative of their business and product, were customers of a leading Bakery in country NSW this last weekend.• We queried whether folic acid was in their products, and if so, which ones.• The results of our enquiry were in line with my expectation.• The co-proprietor, a professed active member of the State BIA, knew nothing of MFF, and was unaware that all her foods contained folic acid.
What is Folate?“Vitamin B Group” is a term applied to a group of 12 Food nutrientsonce thought to be just the one nutrient.These individual nutrients typically occur together in food.There are 12 “vitamins” with the Group, 8 of which are classed asEssential, and 4 of which are classed as Non-essential.Vitamin B9 is Folate,and it’s Essential.
Health Benefits of FolateIf there is a deficiency, the consumption of additional Folate will provide:• Healthier offspring of child-bearing women, with a reduction in NTDs• Prevention of a wide range of disease.
The metabolism of Folate• Natural Folate is the form of the vitamin that the human body has evolved to metabolise most effectively.• During the process of food digestion, natural Folate is converted by the gut mucosa and enzymes to 5-methyl TetraHydroFolate, which is then absorbed directly in to the blood.• At a cellular level, 5-methyl THFA is directly and beneficially utilised by the body.
What is Folic Acid?• Folic Acid is man-made.• Folic Acid is a bright yellow, crystalline, water soluble substance that is stable to heat, but easily oxidized.• It is mostly perceived to BE Folate, with the terms mostly used interchangeably.
Health Benefits of Folic Acid• The same as Folate, IF folic acid can be effectively and efficiently metabolised by the human body in to 5-methyl THFA. and it is a big IF
The metabolism of Folic Acid• Folic acid is not a component of natural food, and humans have apparently not evolved methods to effectively metabolise it.• Folic Acid is more quickly absorbed through the gut and in to the blood than natural Folate, but it must then be further metabolised.• Synthetic Folic Acid is not metabolised in the same way as natural Folate. Multiple and complex chemical conversion steps are required to convert it to 5-methyl THFA.• This process is performed in the liver, but the human liver is very limited and individually very variable in its capability to convert synthetic Folic Acid to 5-methyl THFA.
The Results that concern ConsumersOnly very recently have researchers established that:• through the low and individually variable rate of conversion by the human liver, only a proportion of the folic acid consumed each day can be metabolised in to 5-methyl THFA.• With continued dietary consumption of fortified foods, and with vitamin supplements, Folic Acid can and does build up in the blood, and persist.• This un-metabolised Folic Acid provides none of the benefits of the Vitamin, and, even worse, is believed to interfere with normal metabolic processes.
Is this Significant regarding human health & Food Safety?Depends on who you listen to, and what you read.• The benefits of Folate have been established, and Folic Acid has quite inappropriately “hung on its coat-tails”.• Recent Research has associated: – High levels of “Folate” (?) with significantly increased incidence of cancer. – the presence of persistent circulating un-metabolised Folic Acid in the blood with several previously unsuspected adverse health effects. Most worrisome are epigenetic effects such as childhood asthma, diabetes, autism.• No one has yet demonstrated the safety of MFF, or of persistent circulating un-metabolised Folic Acid.
However, there is significant inertia associated with MFF• There is tremendous inertia associated with the global Flour Fortification Initiative (FFI).• There is tremendous inertia associated with the known benefits of “Folate”.• Proponents for MFF brook no opposition to their high moral ground.• Industry is perceived as self serving.• Government want to look good, save money.
The Foods affected by MFFNot just “bread”, being limited to products made from a yeast raised dough....• Most flour millers unable to differentiate• Most bakers unable to differentiateTherefore virtually all baked products contain folic acid, as do most products that contain wheaten flour...
Consumer Reaction• Individual consumers will react as individuals based on their own perception of degree of risk. They will progressively avoid your products.• There can be no recovery whilst folic acid is present in baked goods.• Consumers as a group will inevitably and inexorably change their eating habits, never to return.• Bakery earnings will diminish, jobs will be lost• The Baking Industry will be increasingly marginalised
Did consumers in react in USA? (MFF commenced 1998)
Can we ignore MFF• NO. This is probably another “Thalidomide”.• We will not be protected by our own ignorance and inaction. Instead, silence on our behalf will be later construed by media and consumers as a “cover up”.• We are legally and practically expected to provide Safe Food. We have to ensure that we do.
What may be done?We have an opportunity.At a MFF Debriefing in Canberra on 9 March, FSANZ conceded that, if due process had been followed, we would not have MFF in the form that we now do. FSANZ offered to work more effectively with Industry in the future.Government practically concedes that all is not well with MFF, and has promised a Review of MFF after 2 years.We therefore must ensure that a Review of MFF and The Standard does in fact occur, that it is objective and reasonable, and that we obtain an outcome that reflects objectivity.This will not happen of itself, given the fact that we have MFF in place, and given the lobbying power of those who seek the health outcome of fewer NTDs.
The Review must ensure:• That all the risks associated with MFF are properly and factually established.• That MFF must be proven safe by appropriate due process if it is to be continued.• That there is no bias in reports and recommendations to Ministerial Council.• That Ministerial Council acts in accordance with such recommendations.
How can we achieve effective Review?• We must change our mindset.• We must become Proactive, not Reactive.• YOU must take ownership and become involved.• YOU must seek to exert a high degree of control over your future.
How can we achieve effective Review?• I encourage YOU as an individual to seek out more information, and to discuss MFF and its implications widely throughout the industry and community.• I encourage YOU to work together with your peers, with and through the ASB, your Baking Industry Associations, and the Australian Food and Grocery Council; and to either be or to empower appropriate Representation of our needs to Government.
SuggestionsConvene a Summit to deal with the Perceived, and Actual.Instead of fragmented, uncoordinated and scattergun approach, we must ensure that energetic individuals, working in a co-operative and coordinated manner, are able to distil and represent the needs of the entire grains foods value chain to Government.We must preferably work through the Australian Food & Grocery Council (AFGC) to represent our needs to just a single Food Minister instead of many.We must immediately set up a Peak Body, able to represent and use the clout of the entire Grains Foods Value Chain. Government is awaiting this.
We must ensure that energetic and committedindividuals representing industry are activelyinvolved with key Governmental bodies, such as:• Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) which has been tasked with the monitoring health outcomes of MFF.• Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) which is to conduct the Review, and make recommendations.• Australia New Zealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council (Ministerial Council) which make decisions about Standards.• The Food Regulation Standing Committee (FRSC) which provides recommendations to Ministerial Council.