Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) is calling for public comment on a proposal for mandatory fortification of food with folic acid.

Each year, 300 to 350 pregnancies in Australia are affected by neural tube defects such as spina bifida. In New Zealand there are approximately 70 to 75 cases per year. In a statement FSANZ said that women can reduce the risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect by consuming 400 micrograms of folic acid a day before and during the first three months of pregnancy.

"However, there is evidence that pregnant women are not getting sufficient folic acid from food, either from food that has been fortified voluntarily by food companies or from naturally occurring folate. Although many women planning pregnancies take folic acid supplements, nearly half of all pregnancies are unplanned," the statement said.

The Australia and New Zealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council has asked FSANZ to consider developing a food standard for the mandatory fortification of food with folic acid.  A draft standard recommending that folic acid be added to flour used for bread making is now available for public comment.

Bread making flour has been recommended as bread is a common food that is consumed regularly by most women of child bearing age.

"Overseas projects where folic acid has been added to flour have proven successful in reducing the rate of neural tube defects," FSANZ said. "The proposed standard balances the need for women of child bearing age to get sufficient folic acid, while ensuring that some segments of the population, such as small children, do not get too much."