Armstrong on Folic Acid

July 21st, 2009 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

John Armstrong writes:

The political furore over putting in is not confined to arguing the scientific merits of putting folic acid in .

It is about much more than that. It is an argument about the morals of mass medication. That raises all the connotations of “” knows best .

And no one is against people being able to buy bread with folic acid added to it. But why should every male, and every female aged under 16 or over 50 be dosed with folic acid, when the main benefit of it can not apply to them, and there is some uncertainity about risks.

Her handling of this hot potato has been lambasted largely on the back of a less than impressive performance on TVNZ’s Q&A programme the Sunday before last. Wilkinson seemed woefully under-prepared for the bombardment she received from interviewer Paul Holmes and the Greens’ food safety campaigner, Sue Kedgley. …

While making it clear she was looking for a means for New Zealand to escape its transtasman obligations, she looked like a minister hostage to the advice of her officials and seemingly powerless. Her solution that the decision to mix folic acid into bread be reviewed after its introduction may have satisfied legal considerations but it seemed somewhat farcical.

There were three basic positions you could take. One is you are against compulsory addition of folic acid in bread and are not going to let it happen. Another is you think it is a good thing to have folic acid added to bread and defend that decision. The third is that you are against adding folic acid to all bread, but won’t or can’t stop it happening. That is the worst position to adopt as it is saying I agree it is wrong, but I’ll let this bad thing still happen because I am powerless. It is a lesson for other Ministers.

Exit Wilkinson. Enter the Prime Minister. The Government will release a discussion document tomorrow with three options – deferral, rejection or the status quo. But Key has already said he prefers deferral, bringing the matter to a close. If this is another example of Key’s brute pragmatism, there are also lessons for his Administration.

The reason Key is so popular, is he is always getting involved and sorting out problems like this one, the old s92A etc etc. But over the longer term, the Government as a whole needs to be seen as performing very well – not just the Prime Minister.

Labour’s unwavering backing for folic acid in bread might have meant the issue was dead in terms of parliamentary politics. However, it has turned out to be very much alive politically outside the Beltway.

And Labour still back the mass medicating of folic acid. This means it may be an issue in the 2011 election as Labour will effectively be campaigning on their plans to make folic acid compulsory in bread. The review of the decision is timed for just a few months after the 2011 election so parties will be expected to have a position.

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15 Responses to “Armstrong on Folic Acid”

  1. wreck1080 (3,730 comments) says:

    Labour will never win an election while they make silly politics.

    While national are busy fixing the economy, Phil Goff and his army are campaigning for mass medication and dole for non-working partners.

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  2. tvb (4,202 comments) says:

    She needs to demonstrate she has better political skills than she has shown so far. I am getting a little anxious about the political skills of list MPs. However I think John Key perhaps in a years time will have a good hard look at the performance of all Ministers and I feel some will be dropped and others will be given a chance. The PM is head and shoulders above everyone else – not through his personality but through his very considerable skills as a politician and he is going from strength to strength.

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  3. Danyl Mclauchlan (1,065 comments) says:

    This means it may be an issue in the 2011 election as Labour will effectively be campaigning on their plans to make folic acid compulsory in bread. The review of the decision is timed for just a few months after the 2011 election so parties will be expected to have a position.

    Highly unlikely – both parties will simply say they’re waiting for the outcome of the review, which will almost certainly be to recommend we fortify bread with folic acid. Hopefully whichever government is in power then listens to the scientists and health professionals and not Sue Kedgley.

    [DPF: Why would National not rule it out again and bash Labour for not ruling it out and being nanny statish? I can't see a scenario where National will not rule it out and pass up such an opportunity as Labour have said they still support it being mandatory]

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  4. Danyl Mclauchlan (1,065 comments) says:

    Why would National not rule it out again and bash Labour for not ruling it out and being nanny statish?

    Because they’ll look like irresponsible fools when the review recommends introducing the supplement a couple of months later.

    [DPF: The review that will be done by the Government that has just won the election?And do you think people give a damn about some committee's view anyway. I think you are very naive (for once) on the politics of this. ]

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  5. daveski (86 comments) says:

    tvb: However I think John Key perhaps in a years time will have a good hard look at the performance of all Ministers and I feel some will be dropped and others will be given a chance

    Indeed, apart from some notable exceptions, especially Key, many of the ministers seem woefully underprepared for their roles. I hope that there is better talent ready to take the place of say Mapp as an example because the lowest common denominator will bring down the perceived level of the Nats performance.

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  6. MyNameIsJack (2,415 comments) says:

    So what’s your opinion on the addition of iodine to bread? OR did you miss that one?

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  7. toad (3,669 comments) says:

    Yeah, why are the Nats supporting iodine being a mandatory mass medication via bread? Sounds like nanny state to me.

    Looks like bread will be joining the list (pork, chicken) where I’ll buy only organic. I can afford to, but there are those who can’t.

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  8. s.russell (1,563 comments) says:

    I have some sympathy for Wilkinson here. It was not for her as a relatively junior minister to abrogate an international treaty off the cuff on a TV programme. With no decision from higher up at that point, what else could she have done? She made the best of a bad job and it is a little unfair to blame her for being caught in a hole that Labour dug.

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  9. Alan Wilkinson (1,816 comments) says:

    Danyl, “experts” can only advise on likely consequences. It is up to you and me to make the value judgments on what should be done, not “experts” either singly or in panels.

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  10. nandor tanczos (77 comments) says:

    50% of my RDI of folate comes from Marmite. Maybe we should make it compulsory. Either that or ban it from toast so that when we add folate to bread people don’t get an excessive dose (with potential health consequences).

    Seriously though, great to see you all supporting Sue Kedgeley ‘s hard work on this.

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  11. Ryan Sproull (7,028 comments) says:

    50% of my RDI of folate comes from Marmite.

    That gives me a thought, Nandor. Do you have stats on how much folate is in a pint of Guinness?

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  12. Ryan Sproull (7,028 comments) says:

    Worked it out. One pint of Guinness gives you just under 10% of your RDI of folate. (Source)

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  13. nandor tanczos (77 comments) says:

    10 pints of Guinness not recommended as a source of folate for expectant mothers, of course

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  14. Ryan Sproull (7,028 comments) says:

    10 pints of Guinness not recommended as a source of folate for expectant mothers, of course

    That’s political correctness gone mad. Maaaaaaaaaad.

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  15. Jack5 (4,584 comments) says:

    Did posters hear former Labour Radio morning host Linda Clarke raving on the folic acid issue in Jim’s afternoon show today ( 21 July) on Radio NZ?

    What a one-sided diatribe. Clarke blamed “grocers and bakers” and Kathleen Rich and when host Jim pointed out public opinions she responded “public opinion can be swayed”.

    Authorities and sources she quoted included the NZ Listener. Clarke also said those who didn’t want medicated bread could buy exempted organic bread (which reminds me of the royal lady who said let the poor eat cake). She described those who spoke out against the medication as glib and ignorant.

    Clarke regurgitated the pro-medication lobby’s extra abortions warning (would that be ten a year?). I don’t recall Clarke ever criticising the 18,000 or so legal abortions that occur in NZ each year.

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