I've been rather bemused from the sidelines by the debate over the mandatory addition of folic acid to bread. From what I've seen, only about ten per cent of the debate has actually been about the health issue: will the proposed addition significantly and efficiently help New Zealand's public health? The remaining ninety per cent has been along the lines of "Goddamn Nanny State, get out of my bread!"
Garth George, seemingly revitalised by a winter hibernation, has emerged to congratulate the government on its brave, bold decision to... postpone implementation until further research can be done. What that means, of course, is to postpone implementation until no one remembers what folate is or what all the fuss was about.
The Government's decision to put the kibosh on the plan to add folic acid to bread was a no-brainer.Hmmm:
The very idea of subjecting the entire population to this chemical on the off-chance it might prevent disease in 70-odd babies in any year was always utterly incomprehensible.
- By "disease", Garth means massively debilitating or fatal conditions such as spina bifida and anencephaly.
- By "off-chance", Garth means actually a very good chance - a study in Canada showed that the mandatory fortification of bread with folic acid coincided with a 46% drop in neural tube defects.
- By "chemical", he means folic acid, also known as folate, also known as vitamin B9. Folic acid is the exact same "chemical" that naturally occurs in plants such as... wheat.
- By "70-odd babies", he means the 70-odd children that are born horribly deformed AND the potentially many more who are aborted every year once the condition is spotted on an ultrasound. Wait, isn't Garth against abortion? Turn out he hates Nanny State more.
Particularly since there was absolutely no evidence that the folated bread would be eaten by those for whom it was intended - women about to become pregnant and in the first stages of pregnancy.Why would we think that potential mothers would eat bread? Because it's bread, not fois gras. The whole point of the mandatory programme was that people wouldn't have to think about potential pregnancy, folate intake or even anything beyond 'Mmmm, sandwich...' As for the "11 slices of bread" myth - as someone pointed out in the letters today, that would be total amount needed if people ate only bread. Most of us, however, like a wee lettuce leaf or some such to supplement our crust.
We are told that, in order for the folic acid to have the desired effect, such women would have to eat 11 slices of such bread every day.
For one thing, how many women know in advance they're going to get pregnant, even if they're determinedly trying; and for another how many know they are pregnant until they miss one, or possibly two, periods?
Ha! You got them! Imagine a group of "experts" sitting around thinking they knew more about human physiology and chemistry than your average white middle-class New Zealander! Next you'll be telling me that the chief justice knows more about the legal and penal systems than some guy at the pub.
You can see where this dumb idea came from. Imagine a group of "experts" sitting round discussing health matters when one of them says, "Why don't we ... ?" And the rest, without benefit of thought or scientific evaluation, reply, "Oh, what a good idea. Let's do it."
Living in the airy-fairy world of academic theory, they give no thought to the people on whom their weird and wonderful ideas are to be visited. Nor would they recognise that this sort of thing is nanny statism taken to its most sinister extremes.
Well, except for reducing that handful by (potentially) about 46 per cent. I'm sure your words of wisdom will be very comforting to those parents who have to deal with these conditions every day - or who have to go through the heartwrenching decision to abort. Such a sympathetic figure, aren't you? "Ain't nobody gon' put vitamins in my bread just to save the lives of a few dozen children a year!"
Now don't get me wrong. Spina bifida and other neural tube defects are horrifying, and the children who suffer from them and their parents deserve our deepest sympathy and unlimited support.
But the shotgun approach of putting folic acid in the bread eaten by the entire population would do nothing to alter the fact that a handful of children are going to be born each year with such disability.
Yes Garth, the ridiculous, straw-man possibilities are endless. How about cyanide in our central North Island meat pies to stop unresearched and bigoted rubbish appearing in our newspapers? Methadone, of course, is used to relieve addiction to opioids and, hence, does not work for crack cocaine - but I can hardly expect Garth to have gone to the trouble of googling that. I won't bother to go to the trouble of explaining the disanalogy between folate, a compound that occurs naturally in all sorts of plants we eat every day, and drugs designed in a lab to modify human physiology, like amphetamines. Oh, I just did. That was easy.
It makes you wonder what the so-called experts in various "disciplines" will get up to next. If we accept the practice of self-medicating the community to ward off all manner of specific health conditions, where would it end?
Would the liquor industry be required to put saltpetre in all alcoholic beverages to prevent rape? Will we have methadone in our milk to help ease the withdrawal of crack addicts? Perhaps Ritalin in the butter to help to improve the concentration of poor drivers? And maybe amphetamines in the fizzy drinks to help fight obesity? The possibilities are endless.
But at least Garth is taking the issue seriously, right? I mean, he's not taking the piss out of families, communities and health workers struggling with the consequences of neural tube defects...
As I said, the folic acid in bread idea originated in Australia. Perhaps, next, they'll insist that steroids and beta blockers be added to Victoria Bitter ale to prevent the struggling (oh joy!) Australian cricket team losing the Ashes.