Folic acid in bread will save lives ... or give you cancer
An Oxford University professor and pharmacologist claims an increased risk of cancer if New Zealand was to make it mandatory to put folic acid in bread.
“I would say that several hundred additional cases of cancer may occur in the population [per year],” folic acid researcher David Smith told TVNZ's Q&A programme yesterday.
“So we estimate that 10% of New Zealanders will be at increased risk of cancer if folic acid is added to flour.”
Mandatory fortification would see “a reduction of five neural tube defect cases in pregnancies per year”, but “harmful effects” means that’s not worth it, Prof Smith said.
“Quite recent evidence now is that there is significant potential for harm.
“You’re affecting the health of the whole population if you add something to food. It’s got to be a very serious decision to be taken.”
'False' and 'selective'
But the Paediatric Society says Prof Smith's claims are “completely false” and “selective”.
“It’s not true it will increase cancer. It reduces cancer overall,” the society's Dr Andrew Marshall told Q+A.
Mandatory fortification of bread with folic acid could prevent deaths from strokes – as many as 124 per year, the society says.
About 24 neural tube (NTD) pregnancies a year could be saved if folic acid in bread was made mandatory.
Mandatory fortification could save about two-thirds of all NTD cases, Dr Marshall said.
The number of women with “good levels of folate in their blood” has doubled since a voluntary folic acid in bread programme began two years ago, but that is only half of the number that would be achieved if it was made mandatory.
Freedom of choice?
“If you can do something that’s safe and effective and doesn’t cause harm, then it’s better to do that for the whole population, even though you know that only certain sectors of the population will achieve the greatest benefits from that,” Dr Marshall said.
Food & Grocery Council CEO Katherine Rich has said her organisation opposes compulsory introduction of folic acid.
New Zealanders don't like the government tampering with their bread, and scientific evidence does not support folic acid's introduction, she has said.