Rich on Food Safety

June 9th, 2009 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Former National MP is now Chief Executive of the Food and Grocery Council. She writes:

If any government decides to mass-medicate every -buying New Zealander with a certain additive, it has to be very sure that the costs to the community don’t outweigh any health benefits, and that there are no long-term ill-effects on the population.

Minister for Food Safety faces an interesting test as she decides whether to review or delay a controversial new food standard, which will force all bakers to add folic acid to every single loaf of bread.

The question is, will this centre-right politician – who campaigned vigorously on ridding New Zealand of the “” – endorse such a major intervention?

An excellent question.

Political ideology and the centre-right principle of freedom of choice aside, however, the big issue is the growing concern that too much folic acid might create long-term health problems for bread-loving Kiwis.

Folic acid has been seen as a miracle vitamin since the 1980s, when increasing pregnant women’s folic acid intake was linked to reductions in birth defects.

No one, and in particular bakers, disputes the beneficial effects on pregnant women. Pregnant women can benefit hugely from taking supplements and eating a healthy diet.

Where some part company is when regulators turn from targeted health programmes for small numbers of women at risk, to a programme of effective mass medication – dosing every man, woman, and child.

I prefer targeting.

Official reports written by the New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) have been made publicly available. Parts of the reports make disturbing reading to any sandwich-making Kiwi parent.

While it’s been estimated that a pregnant woman will have to eat 11 slices of bread a day to receive the amount of folic acid required, the NZFSA reports confirm in black and white that some New Zealand children will, as a result of mandatory fortification, eat more than their recommended daily intake of folate/folic acid.

In rather alarming advice, the minister at the time was told by NZFSA: “There are unknown risks that may not become apparent for one or two generations. Children will be exposed to much higher levels of folic acid than in previous generations. It may not be until this generation of children have their own children that adverse effects become apparent.”

Does not sound reassuring.

“We continue to have concerns that 13.8 per cent of males aged 5 to 8 years and 8.2 per cent of New Zealand females are going to exceed the upper level intake for folic acid …”

These are the “concerns” that will need to be explained in the event the Government endorses the food standard. It may not be a task the minister will relish.

Katherine is not going soft on her former colleagues!

It’s potentially a very unpopular move.

New Zealanders simply don’t like the idea of governments tampering with their bread. The New Zealand Food Safety Authority’s own research concluded “84 per cent of consumers interviewed, even after providing information on the reasons for fortification, did not support mandatory fortification”.

So listen to them, and don’t do it.

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33 Responses to “Rich on Food Safety”

  1. AM (8 comments) says:

    Folic acid in bread is a terrible idea. So much better to just give / subsidise vitamins to pregnant women, or those planning to get pregnant.

    What about the iodised salt inclusion into bread? This is a huge cost to all bread manufacturers, changing all your plates and stock for every product will simply be passed on to consumers. Is it really necessary?

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  2. ben (2,380 comments) says:

    I’m surprised there is much serious debate about whether the benefits of mass medication outweigh the costs given

    a) much of the benefits will accrue to those who really do need folic acid, and this can be achieved via self selection and targeting

    b) the endless history of unintended consequences associated with population-wide government interventions, however well-intentioned, and

    c) the potentially large downside if somebody made a mistake in their spreadsheet.

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  3. PaulL (5,987 comments) says:

    Damn right. This is yet another example of regulating the many unnecessarily so as to get at the actions of the few. The same as the smacking laws – tightening the law on the many who obeyed the existing law so as to send a message to the few who were breaking the old law anyway. And the same argument that goes with raising the drinking age – stop all 18 year olds from drinking so as to reduce the chance of 16 year olds drinking.

    It is woolly thinking, and shouldn’t be tolerated.

    If pregnant women need more folic acid, then they should get more folic acid. Unless there are health benefits to the whole population, the rest of the population should not be medicated.

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  4. Jack5 (5,137 comments) says:

    Go Katherine!

    How dare bureaucrats try to doctor our bread when there is evidence that this will likely increase incidence of colon and prostate cancer. The answer is for pregnant women to take supplements containing required folates.

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  5. toad (3,674 comments) says:

    No PaulL, not the same as the child discipline law. I’m totally against mass medication, but I’m also totally against corporal punishment.

    With mass medication you are correct – it is the Government forcing everyone to ingest something because there are a few people who might need more than they get from their normal diet. And in the case of folic acid, it is a substance that may be detrimental to those who are already receiving sufficient from their normal diet.

    Corporal punishment is a different and more complex issue. It is not just about the few people who cannot restrain themselves from bashing their children. It is also about corporal punishment teaching children that “might is right” and that through the use of force you can get your own way. And it is about the rights of all children to grow up free from violence.

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  6. s.russell (1,642 comments) says:

    While I am inclined to reject this mass medication plan, I have to say that I am not convinced by the argument about “unknown risks”. This is exactly the same argument that Greens and Luddites trot out against GM food, particle accelerators, coloured toothbrushes and everything else that is new. Some facts please, not just vague bogeymen.

    On the same line I seriously doubt that ingesting more than the recommended dosage is harmful unless it is many times that dose. It just seems bizarre that (eg) 10mg a day of something is perfect for your health, but 9mg is not enough and will leave you vulnerable to cancer etc, while 11mg is damaging and will give you cancer etc.

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  7. getstaffed (9,186 comments) says:

    “There are unknown risks that may not become apparent for one or two generations”

    Anyone else have trouble wrapping their minds around that statement? I mean, how the hell can a risk that’s unknown be know well enough understood to predict when it may manifest?

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  8. Kimble (4,440 comments) says:

    “It is not just about the few people who cannot restrain themselves from bashing their children.”

    Thats what Bradford sold it as. Did she lie? Of course she did. Deciet and double talk are the only ways you lefties can get your way.

    “It is also about corporal punishment teaching children that “might is right” and that through the use of force you can get your own way.”

    No, it is about teaching children that their misbehaviour has consequences. It is about raising good people, instead of spoiled, self absorbed brats who believe that they can get away with anything because noone is allowed to do anything to them.

    You can see their behaviour at their pathetic “protests”. They will spit on, kick and punch the police, but as soon as the police defend themselves the lefties scream bloody murder.

    “And it is about the rights of all children to grow up free from violence.”

    And this is where the Lefties lose all credibility. The fact that they cant distinguish between loving correction and violence means they lack commonsense. Most smacks are less violent than good hugs.

    I think it is the Lefties once again projecting their own insecurities onto the rest of us. Deep down they want to hurt their children, maybe because they view them as contributing to global warming, maybe just because they resent their kids for making them feel old. And because they are scared that they cant control themselves they assume that everyone else is the same.

    It wouldnt be at all surprising if more Labour and Green supporters murder their children than ACT or National supporters.

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  9. Ratbiter (1,265 comments) says:

    In my experience most mothers are very interested in their baby’s health and will research in great depth what supplements etc they need.

    Why not use the approach as per iodized salt? It is widely available but not compulsory; allowing conspiracy theorists, alternative-healing types and libertarians to buy iodine-free sea salt if they are really that upset about nanny state putting chemicals in their bodies (or whatever…)

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  10. Ratbiter (1,265 comments) says:

    “It wouldnt be at all surprising if more Labour and Green supporters murder their children than ACT or National supporters.”

    You’re tuned to Kiwiblog…

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  11. KiwiGreg (3,255 comments) says:

    If we had had another 9 years of Labour government there wouldn’t be any need for mass medication through foods – everyone’s diet would be prescribed and regulated by law so that everyone ate the same government-mandated organic, vegan, gender neutral foods.

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  12. johnbt (90 comments) says:

    We need our bread medicated about as much as we need a Food and Grocery Council.

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  13. MyNameIsJack (2,415 comments) says:

    S russell says “On the same line I seriously doubt that ingesting more than the recommended dosage is harmful unless it is many times that dose.”

    Well, I had a friend who forgot to take his homeopathic remedies and died of an overdose.

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  14. stephen (4,063 comments) says:

    “We need our bread medicated about as much as we need a Food and Grocery Council.”

    It’s an industry group.

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  15. Grant Michael McKenna (1,160 comments) says:

    KiwiGreg, what are gender-neutral foods? Sausages are male, oysters female and so on?

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  16. Countess of Cleavage (27 comments) says:

    This is who is on the Board, thats my maxim check out who running the show, the rest are just flunkies
    Chairman

    George Adams, Coca-Cola Amatil (NZ) Ltd

    Vice Chair

    Sylvia Burbery, Mars New Zealand
    Sarah Kennedy, Vitaco Health Ltd

    Board Members

    Scott MacKay, Tosco Communications Ltd
    Peter McKinney, George Weston Foods
    Doug Paulin, Hubbard Foods Ltd
    Paul Rose, GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare
    Pierre van Heerden, Sanitarium Health Food Company
    Tristram Wilkinson, Kimberly-Clark New Zealand

    We all know what is in Coca Cola dont we. but if they told you they would have to kill you.

    These are the people we can trust when others try and force Vitamin B down our throats.

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  17. jcuknz (704 comments) says:

    It is all a plot to sell more breadmaking machines unless they exempt ‘specialty breads’.

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  18. PaulL (5,987 comments) says:

    Toad – actually in some ways quite similar to the smacking law.

    It was branded as aiming to catch those who didn’t know the limits and it was argued that it wouldn’t catch the average person who chose to use physical discipline. So a law that, as sold to us, was proscribing the activities of the many so as to get a result for the few.

    Next, there is reasonable doubt about whether the impact on the majority is good or bad. Many studies show that use of excessive force is definitely bad for children. But if we exclude from the study that discipline that was already illegal, then the answer becomes an arguable one – some studies found physical discipline more effective, some no impact, and others that non-physical discipline was more effective. As such, there is no overwhelming evidence that the government should intervene in parenting decisions. This is quite similar in concept to the concerns about whether excess folic acid consumption in those not in the target group is a bad thing – studies are unclear, which means that the govt shouldn’t be forcing it on us.

    I’m also waiting for the law that prohibits “emotional” discipline of children. You know, excessively yelling at them, ostracising them, telling them they are bad, when correctly a parent should only tell a child that their behaviour is bad, not that the child is bad. These are also all things that parents shouldn’t be doing, and are arguably just as harmful as mild physical discipline (of the sort that was legal under our old law).

    Because of the way the S59 changes were sold, there was never any debate about these other forms of discipline. The argument was that we were targeting the behaviour of those who were already breaking the old law. I know that was just a stalking horse, I think you do too given your statement above that this is all about stopping any form of physical discipline.

    If the debate had been framed around “we would like to stop the forms of physical discipline that are currently legal” then it would have been interesting to debate whether a smack on the bottom when a child does something wrong is more or less harmful than some parent telling a child they are “bad” or that if they don’t behave better “mummy won’t love them any more.” Personally I think the smack on the bottom is way less likely to cause long term damage, but for some reason we’re not targeting the emotional blackmail.

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  19. Jack5 (5,137 comments) says:

    In response to PDD’s post at 2.25 here is one of the many reports of studies indicating the danger of folate supplements, which is essentially what compulsory addition to bread is. (There are more scholarly references PDD can find on Google). This reference is from a highly reputable Canadian newspaper, but there have been many other reports of this study. It seems to indicate that folic acid supplements may double incidence of prostate cancer. If this holds up in further studies, doctoring NZ bread with folate would be criminal.

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/article976033.ece

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  20. Jack5 (5,137 comments) says:

    Another reference on folate and prostate cancer:

    http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/589506_print

    Whoops! That one seems to be password locked. Try this one

    http://www.newsmax.com/health/folic_acid_prostate_cance/2009/03/11/190656.html

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  21. pdd (8 comments) says:

    Jack5, my point was that your use of the word “likely” was an exaggeration that buys in to news headlines. Did you even read those links? In the first, the lead author of the study in question notes “these results may be due to chance, and replication by other studies is needed”, and in the second “the findings are too preliminary to warrant a recommendation against taking folic acid supplements.” So I again call bs on your claim “there is evidence that this will likely increase incidence of colon and prostate cancer.”

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  22. PaulL (5,987 comments) says:

    And, pdd, would you take a handful of folic acid supplements every day given that evidence? Even if you didn’t need them, but some guy down the street might benefit? That’s the point. For many NZers there are risks with no benefits. Don’t medicate those people who don’t need it, target those who do.

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  23. Jack5 (5,137 comments) says:

    PDD:

    First read this:

    http://www.newswise.com/articles/view/549887/

    and about the fifth or sixth item in the following:

    http://medicineworld.org/cancer/prostate/prostate-cancer-blog.html

    The articles refer to the Aspirin/Folate Polyp Prevention Study (AFPP) at the University of Southern California. The results were published in March.

    Note this finding:” A study led by scientists at the University of Southern California (USC) observed that men who took a daily folic acid supplement of 1 mg daily had more than twice the risk of prostate cancer compared with men who took a placebo. ”

    The use of the word “likely” in my post is not an exaggeration. An important experiment has raised the question.n It’s also a bit ironic for someone basing their post on Wikipedia criticises using the MSM as a source.

    It would be madness to put folic into bread until this finding has been refuted, if it can be refuted, by further research. I think you will find, pdd, that the Irish Republic has either abandoned or delayed adding folic acid to bread.

    Let’s not forget the folic acid move was initiated under Labour’s Annette King. It’s another heavy-handed Labour stuff-up.

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  24. Jack5 (5,137 comments) says:

    Another way of looking at this pdd!

    About 500 New Zealanders die each year from prostate cancer. If the California study’s results are replicated, this will be solid evidence that as many as another 500 NZ guys could die a year (depending no level of folic acid added to bread, bread consumption and such variables).

    Why put NZ men at risk? Just more misandry from Labour (albeit in danger of reaching final implementation under National)?

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  25. pdd (8 comments) says:

    Jack5, and PaulL:

    I haven’t expressed my opinion on whether or not adding folate to the bread supply in NZ is a worthy excercise. All I’ve tried to point out is that the trial (same one in all your links – out of USC) that links folic acid to colon cancers is ‘preliminary’ and possibly down to chance. The author of the study in question says so herself – did you read that bit? You can argue all you like for adding or not adding folate to our bread, but saying it’s “likely” to cause colon cancers IS an exaggeration.

    Jack5, in an earlier post you say “It seems to indicate that folic acid supplements may double incidence of prostate cancer.” I’d stick with that…’seems’ and ‘may’ – useful qualifiers.

    O, and I don’t know what you mean about me criticising your use of the MSM. All I take issue with is your selective approach to it.

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  26. WraithX (283 comments) says:

    Ratbiter said: “Why not use the approach as per iodized salt? It is widely available but not compulsory”

    In fact, what most people seem to be missing is that iodized salt will also be compulsory at the same time as folic acid as all bakers will be required by law to use iodized salt. The excuse of the previous government for this further mass medication program is that people aren’t eating enough iodized salt anymore (no doubt thanks to their anti-salt campaigns).

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  27. Jack5 (5,137 comments) says:

    PDD (9.02am and earlier) quibbles by seizing on the word “likely”. The first definition of “likely” in the New Shorter OED is “having an appearance of truth or fact”.

    This was a serious scientific study, and like most other developments in medicine, needs to be replicated in further trials. From this University of Southern California study it is quite logical for any poster or commentator to describe folic supplements, as in bread, as being likely to increase incidence of colon cancer and prostate cancer. It the study had found the opposite it would be quite logical of them to use the word “unlikely”.

    The Aspirin/Folate Polyp Prevention Study (AFPP), was, as reported in the references I gave above, a placebo-controlled randomised trial from 1994 to 1996 to determine the impact of aspirin and folic acid on colon polyps in men and women at high risk. The study observed aspirin reduced the risk of colon polyps while folic acid had a negative effect and increased the risk of advanced and multiple polyps.

    In secondary analysis, scientists looked at prostate cancer incidence among 643 men who were randomly assigned to 1 mg daily folic acid supplements or placebo in the AFPP study and who enrolled in an extended follow-up study. The estimated prostate cancer risk was 9.7 percent at 10 years in men assigned to folate, compared with 3.3 percent in men assigned to placebo.

    Folic acid supplements may likely benefit some pregnancies. So why not let the mothers who need the supplements take them voluntarily without putting other people, particularly men, at even potential risk?

    My reference to the MSM was in response to PDD’s initial condescension to the sources I offered. PDD’s alternative was Wikipedia. Hell’s teeth! Wikipedia!

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  28. pdd (8 comments) says:

    Jack5, you still haven’t addressed the study’s own author noting “these results may be due to chance, and replication by other studies is needed,” and “the findings are too preliminary to warrant a recommendation against taking folic acid supplements.”

    When I take into account these statements from the author, and without further trials, I don’t see “an appearance of truth or fact” in a cause and effect relationship between folic acid and colon cancer.

    As for the AFPP study: please refer to my earlier comment – polyps, or tumours, do not equal cancer.

    And forgive me, but I don’t ever recall condescending the sources you offered. As I’ve said, it was your selective use of them which lead me to wonder whether you’d read them – in their entirety.

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  29. Jack5 (5,137 comments) says:

    PDD: “… polyps, or tumours, do not equal cancer…”

    But in the colon they are frequently precursors to colon cancer. That’s why so many people undergo unpleasant colonoscopies – to remove pre-cancerous polyps.

    People can make up their own minds on the AFPP study of prostate cancer incidence among 643 men. Is PDD really suggesting an “unlikely” conclusion or even an indeterminate conclusion should be drawn from the estimated prostate cancer risk of 9.7 percent at 10 years in men assigned to folate, compared with 3.3 percent in men assigned to placebo?
    This seems a “likely” conclusion to me, and certainly one that demands follow-up study and a halt to any precipitous compulsory addition of folic acid to bread.

    PDD’s quibble about the word “likely” strikes me as obfuscation and diversion in the debate on Labour’s Annette King’s move to force bakers to add folate to bread.

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  30. pdd (8 comments) says:

    Jack5, for the last time: stop ignoring the note made by the study’s author.

    Yes, I am suggesting an indeterminate conclusion should be drawn from this study – AS IS THE AUTHOR OF THAT STUDY.

    This is hardly a “quibble” – is the study’s author “quibbling”? No. She is highlighting the limitations of the study, as good scientists should.

    I’m not trying to obfuscate anything, debate away! I just get annoyed when people jump to, and force on others, conclusions that were never made.

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  31. Jack5 (5,137 comments) says:

    PDD: questions of statistical error and sample size etc do not necessarily mean a medical study has found no result. They mean the result needs to be replicated, as is almost always the case in any medical study.

    However, a study that indicates a state edict may be dangerous should be taken seriously.

    No-one forces conclusions on others in Kiwiblog postings I read, except perhaps for the troll Sonic/Catatonic.

    I’m betting you will be unlikely to add folic acid supplement to your diet, if you are male, PDD. Or would you dispute my use of “unlikely” in this context?

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  32. Jack5 (5,137 comments) says:

    Here’s another good, current newspaper wrap (actually dated June 11) on folic acid additive:

    http://www.chicagotribune.com/features/chi-090607folicacid-story,0,868233.story

    Note it reports that rates of colorectal cancer rose in America about the time bread began to be fortified with folic acid. One study says this could be a coincidence, but a report from Chile says the same thing happened there when fortification began in 2000.

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