On January 27 of this year, the Standing Committee on Health Care, Maternity and Childhood of Armenia’s National Assembly decided to postpone hearings on a bill regarding the enrichment of wheat flour to allow more public debate on the matter, given evidence that long-term exposure to folic acid may raise the risk of cancer.
To back up the government sponsored bill, on May 6 of this year, Gayaneh Avagyan, who heads the Maternity and Reproductive Division of Armenia’s Ministry of Health, stated that Austria enriches 480 types of food with iron and folic acid. Ms. Avagyan never mentioned details.
It turns out that this isn’t the case.
Gevorg Grigoryan, who lives in Austria, had written to that country’s ministry of health regarding flour enrichment.
On November 6, Grigoryan received an answer from Florian Fellinger, an aide to Austria’s Minister of Health. Fellinger wrote that in 2006 the Austrian health ministry drafted a bill calling for mandatory flour enrichment but that it was scrapped after one year of public debate.
Grigoryan told Hetq that he wanted to know why the bill was shelved and thus he wrote to the ministry.
Fellinger wrote that public opinion was mostly against mandatory flour enrichment. Many experts, consumer groups and the chamber of commerce were also opposed to the idea.
Austria’s health ministry sided with the opinion that mandatory folic enrichment can, in the long-run, put some population groups at risk for cancer. Voluntary enrichment, however, couldn’t be proscribed according to European Union law.
Fellinger also said that the health ministry and most of those participating at public hearings stated that there were better avenues to see that young women were not deficient in folic acid other than mandatory enrichment. These include targeted additives, physician consultations, and raising public awareness on health related topics.
Grigoryan also wrote to the Austrian health ministry, noting that officials at Armenia’s health ministry were claiming that Austria currently enriches 480 types of food. Grigoryan asked the ministry to provide a list of the foods allegedly being enriched.
Anire Mahmood, an employee at the Food Legislation, Safety and Quality Division at Austria’s health ministry, responded that there was no such list of foods being enriched because those manufacturers enriching their products do not inform the ministry.
“I do not even know where the number 480 comes from,” replied Mahmood, adding that Austria isn’t planning mandatory enrichment and that voluntary enrichment must be carried out according to European Union Regulation (EC) No 1925/2006.
Grigoryan told Hetq that he would write to Austria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, telling them that an Armenian ministry official (Gayaneh Avagyan) was spouting misinformation about food enrichment in Austria and that a diplomatic note should be sent to Armenia.