Forcing folic acid into flour (unless it’s organic) may cost taxpayers $1.6m – upgrading rail infrastructure will cost much more

The mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid – a decision which is bound to trigger expressions of dismay in some quarters – is being introduced at an estimated $1.6 million cost to taxpayers.

A modest cost, perhaps, when stacked alongside the projected savings to the health budget, but it was recorded fairly well down the government’s press statement.

The  much bigger investment of $1.3 billion in rail infrastructure was similarly buried.

Other Beehive announcements advise us that –

  •  Public sector boards are now made up of 50.9 per cent women, up from 45.7 per cent in 2017.
  • Education Minister Chris Hipkins joined 54 newly appointed Workforce Development Council (WDC) members at a launch in Wellington.
  • The government’s ideas of a Treaty partnership are a critical considerations in its Emissions Reduction Plan.
  • Medsafe has granted provisional approval of the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine for individuals 18 years of age and older.

The mandatory doctoring of the flour that is a key ingredient in bread-making will follow the government’s decision to approve the addition of the B vitamin, folic acid, to non-organic bread-making wheat flour to prevent spina bifida and similar conditions.

Food Minister Ayesha Verrall said a review by the Ministry for Primary Industries estimates fortifying all non-organic wheat flour for making bread could prevent between 162 and 240 neural tube defects over 30 years, and reduce health, education and productivity costs by between $25 million and $47.4 million over the same period.

She noted that this move aligns us with Australia’s fortification approach, which has achieved declines in the prevalence of neural tube defects, particularly in pregnancies among teenagers and indigenous women.

And then – a by-the-way matter, apparently – she mentioned the public cost:

Officials will work closely with industry to ensure the recommended level of folic acid fortification is achieved, by providing support to flour millers; including financial assistance for the purchase and installation of the necessary infrastructure, which is estimated to cost $1.6 million.

There will be a two-year transition period.

Fair to say, there are plenty of other figures to help us judge the merits of  the  government’s spending on this initiative:

  • New Zealand’s estimated neural tube defect rate (10.6 per 10,000 births) is higher than countries that have implemented mandatory folic acid fortification, including the United States (7.0 per 10,000 births), Canada (8.6 per 10,000 births) and Australia (8.7 per 10,000 births).
  • In Australia, NTDs rates fell by 14% overall following the introduction of mandatory folic acid fortification. This resulted in improved equity in health outcomes, particularly for indigenous communities (74% decline in NTDs) and teenage mothers (55% decline in NTDs).
  • During public consultation, the majority of submitters were supportive of a mandatory approach, including public health professionals and organisations, academics, and consumers. Of those who specified a preferred approach, 85% supported mandatory fortification.

The Ministry of Health supports the mandatory approach to doctoring our flour.

And we are being assured that a 2018 report from the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor and the Royal Society Te Apārangi found no evidence that folic acid, when fortified in food, had any harmful effects.

Transport Minister Michael Wood somewhat buried the cost of KiwiRail’s inaugural Rail Network Investment Programme (RNIP) and other economic data well down his press release, too, when details were published.

The government will invest $1.3 billion in the programme of renewals and upgrades on the rail network over the next three years, enabling KiwiRail to take on around 150 new track staff, including a pipeline of trainees.  It will also support “numerous” civil contracting firms and material suppliers.

There will be work happening across every region, supporting jobs and the economic recovery across the country.

“It’s a no brainer to rescue rail from the state of managed decline the previous government left it in. It’s worth up to $2.1 billion to our economy and every year it prevents 2.5 million tonnes of CO2 emissions and 26 million car trips in Auckland and Wellington,” Michael Wood said.

“It’s a no brainer to rescue rail from the state of managed decline the previous government left it in. It’s worth up to $2.1 billion to our economy and every year it prevents 2.5 million tonnes of CO2 emissions and 26 million car trips in Auckland and Wellington,” Michael Wood said.

Latest from the Beehive

Health

Folic acid fortification to protect tamariki

The Government has approved the addition of the B vitamin, folic acid, to non-organic bread-making wheat flour to prevent spina bifida and similar conditions.

Low folate levels in mothers cause neural tube defects (NTDs) that result in the deaths of babies or life-long disabilities, Food Safety Minister Ayesha Verrall said.

Organic and non-wheat flour will be exempt from fortification, to provide a choice for consumers who don’t want to consume folic acid,

The ministry report, The Health Benefits and Risks of Folic Acid Fortification of Food, is available HERE.

Transport

Govt laying tracks to support economic recovery

KiwiRail’s inaugural Rail Network Investment Programme (RNIP) details renewals and upgrades on the rail network over the next three years.

The Programme includes:

  • Fully replacing 20 bridges around the country and improving around 25 more
  • Replacing more than 200km of rail sleepers
  • Replacing more than 130km of tracks
  • Adding active controls (barrier arms, lights/bells) to 3 level crossings and making improvements to 25 more through renewals
  • Upgrading signals on the Auckland metro network, a new Auckland train control centre and an additional power supply into the network, to support increased train frequency to come with the City Rail Link
  • Investing in a business case for further network improvements across Wellington, including looking at potentially extending electrification north of Waikanae to Levin and beyond.

Diversification

Government achieves more ethnic diversity, more women on public sector boards

Three ministers – not one an elderly white male – jointly issued the news that the Government has achieved its target of 50 per cent women on public sector boards and committees.

Minister for Women Jan Tinetti, Minister for Pacific Peoples Aupito William Sio, and Minister for Diversity, Inclusion and Ethnic Communities, Priyanca Radhakrishnan released the statement. 

Public sector boards are now made up of 50.9 per cent women, up from 45.7 per cent in 2017.

This is the second year the Stocktake of Gender, Māori, Pacific and Ethnic Diversity on public sector boards and committees measured ethnicity data – now received for 98.6 percent of board members.

The report found:

  • 71.4 per cent of board members are New Zealand European (down from 71.6 per cent in 2019)
  • 22.3 per cent are Māori (up from 21.1 per cent last year),
  • 5.4 per cent are Pacific peoples (up from 4.6 per cent last year)
  • 4 per cent are Asian (up from 3.6 per cent last year)
  • 0.8 per cent are Middle Eastern, Latin American or African (up from 0.6 per cent last year).

Māori women hold 12.2 per cent of public sector board roles.

Job training

New leaders pick up the tools to help fix skills shortages

Six new groups tasked with bringing together industry and vocational education providers now have both the tools and the leadership to get cracking, Education Minister Chris Hipkins said.

He joined the 54 newly appointed Workforce Development Council (WDC) members at a launch in Wellington last night.

The councils will set skill standards, help industry achieve greater influence over what and how training is delivered, and play a leadership role for their industries.

Every industry is covered by one of the six Workforce Development Councils:

  • Hanga-Aro-Rau Manufacturing, Engineering and Logistics
  • Waihanga Ara Rau Construction and Infrastructure
  • Muka Tangata – People, Food and Fibre
  • Toi Mai
  • Community, Health, Education and Social Services, and
  • Services.

Full bios of each WDC Council member can be found here.

The second tranche of appointments to the Services WDC are yet to be formally announced.

Climate change

“It falls to us” – Principles for guiding the Emissions Reduction Plan

Climate Change Minister James Shaw delivered a speech in which he discussed the work being done in response to the  Climate Change Commission’s final advice on bringing  down emissions.

The Beehive release doesn’t specify to whom he was speaking, other than to record his thanks to ASB for hosting the event and note that a wide range of businesses , as well as unions, Iwi/Māori and campaigners, were represented in the audience.

Climate change was not his only concern.  Whatever New Zealand does to avert calamity (he insisted) must take the Treaty of Waitangi into account:

At the heart of what I have spoken about so far is the concept of repair, partnership, and progress – each of us playing our part to create well-paying jobs, restore and protect threatened, endangered, and fragile native ecosystems, and drive innovation. 

But there is a deeper story to be told here about the duty to repair – and that is to transition to a low carbon future in a way that helps to undo the damage done by nearly two centuries of failure in upholding the rights and property of Iwi/Māori.

A key principle for the Emissions Reduction Plan therefore

… is to apply a tikanga Māori lens to the transition to a low emissions economy. 

Through this lens we can better understand the distributional impacts of climate policies and work to balance some of the risks, the costs and benefits to Māori of the transition. 

Shaw called for the application of five principles:

  1. a just transition;
  2. a science-led response;
  3. enhancing the role of nature based solutions;
  4. genuine partnership with Māori;
  5. and a clear, ambitious, and affordable path –

Foreign affairs 

Speech to the ABAC Indigenous Business Leaders’ Dialogue

This speech was delivered by Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta.

Covid-19 vaccine

Second COVID-19 vaccine receives provisional approval

New Zealand’s regulatory authority Medsafe has granted provisional approval of the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine for individuals 18 years of age and older.

New Zealand secured 2 million doses of the Janssen vaccine through an advance purchase agreement last year.

The Janssen COVID-19 vaccine has also received emergency or provisional approval in Canada, USA and Australia.

New Zealand is already receiving significant deliveries of the Pfizer vaccine and has secured enough doses of the Pfizer vaccine for the population of New Zealand and our Pacific neighbours, in 2021.

One thought on “Forcing folic acid into flour (unless it’s organic) may cost taxpayers $1.6m – upgrading rail infrastructure will cost much more

  1. Hi Lyall So you have got the decision. Congratulations. Hopefully Jacinda won’t give in to the grocers.

    This site actually shows how small is the cost in comparison with what else is going on.

    BTW I am now your guest again on the Hill, after successful removal of my gall bladder.

    Kia ora

    Ian

    Like

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