The composition of an Aussie loaf of bread will change forever this week, thanks to a new mandatory food standard - backed by University of Sydney research - which demands bakers replace salt they now use with iodised salt.
The new Food Standards Australia New Zealand standard for Mandatory Iodine Fortification comes into effect tomorrow, Friday October 9, to counter iodine deficiency in the Australian population.
Iodine deficiency causes a wide spectrum of devastating mental and physical disorders, collectively known as iodine deficiency disorders, with endemic goitre the most visible and well-known. It poses a particular risk for pregnant women, who if iodine deficient, may see abnormal brain development in their unborn child.
The need for the standard was first highlighted by research conducted through the University of Sydney and Westmead Hospital in 1999, led by University of Sydney Professor of Clinical Medicine Creswell Eastman.
That research revealed a serious health concern with the re-emergence of an old disease in Australia, a silent epidemic as we coined it, said Professor Eastman, who is now Vice-Chairman and Asia-Pacific regional coordinator of the International Council for the Control of Iodine Disorders. This led to a national survey which took place in 2003-04 and was the first of its kind ever conducted in Australia.
The National Iodine Nutrition study in 2003-04 looked at approximately 1700 Australian schoolchildren aged 8-10 years. The study found that Western Australian and Queensland children were iodine replete and Victorian and NSW children were mildly iodine deficient, with the differences linked to variations in ingestion of iodised salt, in regional milk iodine content, and drinking water iodine levels.
This was a tragedy because Iodine deficiency is the commonest preventable form of intellectual impairment in the world, said Professor Eastman.
A collaborator on the research, Dr Mu Li from the University of Sydney's School of Public Health said: It was alarming that for many years Australian schoolchildren had mild iodine deficiency and no action had been taken by public health authorities.
Dr Li and Professor Eastman said the decline in iodine intake in Australia has been due to two major factors - the change from iodine-containing sanitisers in the dairy industry to chlorine-containing or other acid-based sanitisers; and the low consumption of iodised salt.
Until the 1950s, epidemic goiter from nutritional iodine deficiency was highly prevalent in Australia's mountainous eastern states and especially in Tasmania. When iodine containing sanitizers (iodophors) were introduced into the dairy industry, an 'accidental public health triumph' occurred. However, 40 years later, the dairy industry had phased out iodophors, substituting less expensive chlorine-containing sanitizers, Professor Eastman said.
Professor Eastman and Dr Li were key members of the public health professional group who engaged with Food Standards Australia/NZ on the new standard. They originally lobbied for the trace element iodine to be placed in all salt because they believed many people would not eat enough bread to get sufficient intake.
However a counter-argument was forged that salty diets were not good for health and that analyses had shown salt could end up delivering risky levels of iodine to children.
Bread was agreed upon as the most appropriate vehicle to deliver iodine to the Australian population.
The new Food Standards Australia/New Zealand standard will require the replacement of non-iodised salt in all bread where salt is added with iodised salt with a range of 25 to 65 milligrams of iodine per kilogram of salt. The standard will also apply to bread imported into Australia, usually as frozen dough. The definition of bread extends to all products made from bread dough that contain yeast and salt and includes buns, rolls, pita, bagels, muffins, sweet breads amongst others.