Bakery worker Madhu Govind stocks the shelves in Dee Why, a suburb of northern Sydney April 23, 2008. Reuters/Will Burgess

An Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) report has revealed that the 2009 mandate by Federal Government to add folic acid and iodine to all breads except organic breads is a major success. The Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code introduced the mandatory fortification of bread with folic acid and iodine. Review of the bread fortification program conducted by AIHW has found that the overall rate of neural tube defects (NTDs) has decreased by 14.4 percent since its introduction.

The drastic step was taken by the Federal Government to battle two major health issues, severe birth defects (spina bifida) caused by a lack of folic acid and re-emergence of iodine deficiency. Now, it has been reported that neural birth defects in Australian babies have reduced significantly since the introduction of folate to bread.

“Aboriginal women were twice as likely to have a baby with neural tubes defects which is quite serious, it means the spinal cord doesn't close properly. Bread was chosen becasue we needed something that was eaten by all ethnic and socioeconomic groups,” Ann Hunt of AIHW told The Huffington Post Australia.

The report also stated that there was an even greater decline of NTDs in babies born to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and teenagers. The rate of NTDs among Aboriginal women decreased by 74 percent and in teenagers by almost 55 percent. The bread fortification project has also checked the re-emergence of mild iodine deficiency in the general population.

Iodine is essential for development and proper functioning of the thyroid gland, nervous system and brain, especially in young children and infants. Folic acid is B group vitamin that prevents neural tube defects such as spina bifida in infants. Foods that are naturally high in folate are brussels sprouts, green leafy vegetables, spinach, asparagus, bananas, oranges, broccoli, liver and strawberries.