Mass production and the industrialisation of our food industry have meant that during processing, certain vitamins, minerals and other elements that occur naturally, are removed, damaged or diminished. Folate is such a one, in the production of flour. We all - not just women of child-bearing age - need more folate than most of us are currently getting.
So here we are at the point at which the question being asked is, do we fortify our bread with synthetic folate - (folic acid)?
I have a deep-seated distrust of synthetic additives, and similarly of the use of antibiotics in the food industry. Antibiotics have been used in meat, milk and egg production in New Zealand since government approval in the 1960s.
Coincidentally or not, the beginning of the explosion in our rates of cancer and hyperactivity bears an uncanny relationship to the decades in which synthetic colourings, flavourings, antibiotics and other additives started being widely used in our food.
For instance, the coal-tar derived dye tartrazine (E102) was diverted from the textile industry to the food industry (ever wondered why orange fizzy stains your carpet?) and almost immediately was indicated in a previously unrecognised condition, hyperactivity, along with increased urticarea and a raft of other health issues. (Oh while we’re at it, let’s add E102 to antibiotics! What about giving amoxicillin a banana flavour and colour!) This was in the late 1950s, but it's still being used in food!
We can't all grow our own food. We rely on the producers, processors and supervisory agencies to provide us with a healthy product. But we would be naive to think that all of them have only our best interests at heart.
So my as yet unanswered questions are:
- Is folic acid, in the doses in which it will be used in bread, guaranteed safe long term? The studies that showed there was some increase in the rates of colon and prostate cancer seem to be overshadowed by new studies showing there is no risk. Pardon my scepticism but for the manufacturers of the folic acid additive, that must have been such an economically well-timed announcement.
- Is there no way in which processing could be done to protect the naturally occurring folate in wheat and other staples?
- There is no mention of any benefits being derived to pregnant women who eat fewer than 11 slices a day. Are there any? Does eating three slices, for instance, confer some - though milder - protection against neural tube defects?