THE BUN-FIGHT is over. Bakers will not be forced by law to add folic acid to our bread, bagels, crumpets and English muffins. The Key government will announce this week that it is throwing out the former government’s policy.
Cabinet is expected to formalise the government’s position when it meets tomorrow, effectively putting the controversial issue on the back burner for three years and, crucially, beyond the next election.
The government is not convinced that making folic acid a compulsory ingredient in all bread is necessary, and wants more time to assess the evidence. Folic acid has been shown to reduce the risk of babies being born with defects such as spina bifida, but bakers say women would need to eat at least 11 slices of bread a day to make a difference to the health of their unborn child.
The Key government favours a voluntary regime. It has been looking for a way to wriggle out of the trans-Tasman agreement, struck by the former Labour government, and due to take effect on September 1.
Community pressure mounted as the deadline approached. Radio talkback shows were last week inundated with indignant callers.
The Star-Times understands that Food Minister Kate Wilkinson on Thursday reached an agreement with the Australian parliamentary secretary for health, Mark Butler, that exempts New Zealand from the new standard.
And the agreement with Australia is much better than unilaterally pulling out. As I have said before, Australian politicians will understand how something can become a major issue.
Under the trans-Tasman agreement, folic acid was to be mandatory in all wheat flour products, including sweet breads and rolls, bagels, foccacia, English muffins and flat breads that contain yeast.
Crumpets, scones, pancakes, pikelets, crepes, yeast donuts, pizza bases and crumbed products were also to be fortified with folic acid.
It was going to be in pizzas also?
Katherine Rich, chief executive of the Food and Grocery Council, said many New Zealanders would breathe a sigh of relief because they did not like the idea of the government tampering with their bread.
There were genuine concerns about the health effects and the prime minister was right to delay any decision until all the facts were known, she said. It was also an issue about freedom of choice.
“It’s quite a scary intervention to dose an entire country,” Rich, a former National MP, said.
“A trip to the baker should not be a trip to the chemist.”
Heh – nice line.