End to prescribed quantities to drive new bread loaf size in 2009

By Lindsey Partos

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Folic acid

A recent law from Brussels has thrown up new opportunities for different loaf sizes for UK bakers, with 2009 set to witness an escalation in new product development related to the weight of pre-packaged breads.

European directive 2007/45/EC, set to enter UK law this April and that came into force in the EU on 5 September 2007, effectively abolished prescribed quantities for bread sizes that for centuries have been the rule of thumb.

Since the 12th century bread in the UK has been regulated by prescribed quantities, and is sold in 400g or 800g, or multiples of 400g thereafter.

But the deregulatory move from the European Commission has given greater freedom to the bakers and retailers: loaves in the UK can weigh as little as 300g, be a medium-sized 600g, or an even larger, one kilo quantities.

"In 2009 we could see an increase in the consumption and availability of different sized loaves on the supermarket shelves as bakers take on board the new legislation,"​ Gordon Polson, director of the UK's Federation of Bakers told BakeryandSnacks.com in an interview.

Some bakers have already started to make use of the deregulation. Major UK retailer Tesco last year launched for trial a 300g loaf aimed at single householders. The retail giant also trialled a family size one kilo loaf to the shelves, and a small 600g for medium needs.

While Warburton's, the largest family-owned bakery in the UK, recently introduced a 600g loaf for the market.

"The UK is probably one of the last countries in Europe to retain prescribed quantities, but this new law has thrown up new opportunities for the bakers,"​ adds Polson.

Folic acid, a final decision?

Also slated to occur in 2009 is the final decision on folic acid, an issue that is "still unresolved"​, says Polson, for the €3 billion UK bread making industry.

Folic acid, known as folate in its natural form, and found in broccoli, chickpeas and asparagus, is one of the B-group of vitamins. A considerable body of evidence has linked folate deficiency in early pregnancy to increased risk of neural tube defects (NTD) - most commonly spina bifida and anencephaly - in infants.

While mandatory fortification of all grain products occurs in the US and Canada, the UK has yet to introduce such a public health measure, with discussions still ongoing between stakeholders.

In May 2007 board members at the UK's food watchdog, the Food Standards Authority, agreed to recommend that health ministers introduce mandatory fortification of bread or flour with folic acid in order to reduce the number of pregnancies affected by neural tube defects. The recommendation followed a detailed scientific review of evidence by SACN, the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition.

Bread is seen as an appropriate vehicle for fortification because it is consumed across a wide cross-section of the population. Consultations with the bakery industry have indicated that the preferred point of fortification would be at the milling stage (with the exception of wholemeal flour), rather than at the bread-making stage. This is because there is already a requirement in place to fortify milled flour with iron, calcium, thiamine and niacine, so the new requirement would build on existing technology and regulation.

But bakers have voiced the concern that if folic acid fortification becomes mandatory, a large slice of the population may no longer choose to purchase their products.

"We have to be sure that the nation wants it,"​ said Gordon Polson, "but the issue is still unresolved,"​ he added.

The move to UK fortification is still on the table and the debate lingers on. One element of the debate involves suggestions that folic acid fortification could have possible adverse effects, notably in relation to the detection of vitamin B12 deficiency - which can have severe neurological consequences - in older people

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