Australian millers are required to add folic acid (a form of the B vitamin folate) to wheat flour for bread-making purposes. Folate, which occurs naturally in foods like green leafy vegetables, is necessary for healthy growth and development. Folic acid is particularly important to the healthy development of babies in early pregnancy. A baby’s growth is the most rapid in the first weeks of life, often before a woman is aware she is pregnant. The neural tube closes and fuses very early in pregnancy. If it doesn’t close, the result is a neural tube defect (NTD) such as spina bifida. Folic acid taken at recommended levels for at least one month before and three months after conception can prevent most NTDs.
FSANZ has prepared healthy eating advice for women who are planning pregnancy or who are pregnant, and information on folic acid/folate and pregnancy.
What foods are fortified with folic acid?
All plain, fancy and sweet breads, rolls and buns; bagels; focaccia; English muffins; flat breads made with yeast; and flour mixes or flour for domestic bread making must contain folic acid. Other types of packaged flour don’t have to. Organic bread is not required to contain folic acid. Bread made from other cereal flours or meals such as rice, corn or rye (provided they do not contain any wheat flour) do not have to contain folic acid, though manufacturers may add it if they wish. Some manufacturers also voluntarily choose to fortify other foods with folic acid e.g. breakfast cereal. Manufacturers must list folic acid in the ingredient list on the labels of foods fortified with folic acid. It is sometimes listed as folate. Unpackaged bread, including bread made at the point of sale doesn’t have to have ingredient information, though this information should be made available on request.
Is mandatory folic acid fortification safe?
Based on all available scientific evidence, adding folic acid to bread is safe. Many countries, including the United States and Canada, have mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid and two thirds of the world’s population has access to folic acid-fortified flour.
What’s happening in New Zealand?
The New Zealand Government has opted for a voluntary fortification standard for folic acid in bread. For information visit the Ministry for Primary Industries website.
Background scientific information on the development of the mandatory folic acid fortification Standard can be found in Proposal P295.
Australian Spina Bifida & Hydrocephalus Association
Monitoring of folic acid
Information for health professionals
Mandatory fortification brochure