As part of Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) review, released last night, of its 2006 Final Assessment Report which proposed mandatory fortification of bread with folic acid, FSANZ is proposing that bread in New Zealand represented as organic be exempted from mandatory folic acid fortification, should fortification be implemented as intended.
"An exemption allows organic products to remain free of synthetic ingredients, maintaining the integrity of the organic label, and also provides consumer choice", said Soil & Health spokesperson Steffan Browning.
"Thanks to efforts by Soil & Health, Organics Aotearoa New Zealand, The Green Party and others, Food Safety Minister Annette King brought up the issue of organic products at the Australia and New Zealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council meeting in October 2006".
As part of the Review initiated by the Ministerial Council, FSANZ was tasked with examining and providing further advice on a range of issues relating to the mandatory fortification proposal.
Mandatory fortification with folic acid is seen by the Ministerial Council as a possible means of reducing the incidence of neural tube defects (NTDs). The proposal would mean nearly all bread in New Zealand would be synthetically fortified in order to reduce by 20%, the estimated 70 pregnancies affected by NTDs.
Soil & Health had submitted that organic products must remain free of synthetic ingredients, consumers must have choice, and that mass medication is not a suitable alternative to a strong healthy diet campaign and education regarding risks of NTDs.
Soil & Health had also pointed out the difficulty in compliance with mandatory fortification by small organic flour millers and bakers.
The Issues Paper which is open to further submissions by April 18 includes advice to FSANZ from the New Zealand Commerce Commission and its Australian equivalent, "that consumers are likely to expect that foods labeled 'organic', or 'certified organic' have ingredients derived from living organisms without the use of chemical fertilizers and/or pesticides, and would not contain synthetic vitamins such as folic acid".
"With regard to organic representations of foods, it is the opinion of the NZCC and the ACCC that the use of the term 'organic' in relation to foods fortified with folic acid (without clear and meaningful qualification) may mislead consumers into believing that the product is the result of organic processes and thus may risk breaching the New Zealand Fair Trading Act 1986 or the Trade Practices Act 1974.
"Australia and New Zealand have a number of national organic certification bodies, none of which have identical standards. Organic standards however generally do not currently allow synthetically produced substances into organic production systems, and vitamins and minerals are generally not permitted."
"Soil & Health remains opposed to the mandatory fortification of all bread, but is pleased that the integrity of organics is being supported by the Food Safety Minister Annette King, the Commerce Commission and FSANZ", said Mr Browning.