About Australia, a US based store providing American consumers with traditional products from Down Under, was forced to stop importing Vegemite six months ago, however the product was actually limited to 113gram (4oz) jars in 2005. Expat Daniel Fogarty, now living in Canada, was recently searching for Vegemite while crossing the border on a trip to Montana. Other travelers have had their jars of Vegemite confiscated.
At the bottom of this bizarre prohibition is the US Food and Drugs Administration (of course), who say they disapprove of the addition of folate to anything other than bread or grain products such as flour and pasta.
Okay, time for the serious stuff. Exactly what is folate and why is it so bad?
Folate is a water-soluble B vitamin found naturally in green vegetables, legumes, liver, and some fruits and nuts, not to mention yeast extracts. It works in conjunction with B12 (also present in Vegemite) to produce the genetic materials for cell growth and reproduction. Folate helps to build proteins and healthy red blood cells, which means it is an important nutrient in the defence against anemia. Furthermore, there is some evidence to suggest that high folate intake can reduce the risk of certain diseases.
Sounds like pretty good stuff, right? The FDA thinks so, too.
In 1998, after several years of deliberation, the FDA ruled on regulations for the mandatory addition of folic acid (the synthetic equivalent of folate) to breads, cereals, and other grain products, to assist in the prevention of neural tube defects such as spina bifida. Nine months after the policy was introduced, incidence of spina bifida was reportedly reduced by 31 percent. However, it is argued that the supplementation is inadequate and many more cases of birth defect could be avoided with a higher dosage.
Nevertheless, the FDA purports to the theory that too much folate can mask vitamin B12 deficiency in the elderly and, they argue, Vegemite contains just too much. I’m thinking the FDA hasn’t been reading the nutritional information panel on their jar of Vegemite, which suggests a 5 gram serving for 50% of the recommended dietary intake (RDI) of 200 micrograms of folate per day, or 400 micrograms for women of child bearing age.
Not only that, the Institute of Medicine has established a daily upper intake level (UL) of no more than 1000 micrograms of folic acid so as not to mask symptoms of B12 deficiency.
That’s an awful lot of Vegemite, even for an Aussie. Just how much Vegemite is the FDA slapping on their slice of toast?
But it's gotten worse. From the Courier Mail :
THE United States has slapped a ban on Vegemite, outraging Australian expatriates there.
The bizarre crackdown was prompted because Vegemite contains folate, which in the US can be added only to breads and cereals.
Expatriates say that enforcement of the ban has been stepped up recently and is ruining lifelong traditions of having Vegemite on toast for breakfast.
Former Geelong man Daniel Fogarty, who now lives in Calgary, Canada, said he was stunned when searched while crossing the US border recently.
"The border guard asked us if we were carrying any Vegemite," Mr Fogarty said.
"I was flabbergasted." Paul Watkins, who owns a store called About Australia in San Antonio, Texas, said he had been forced to stop importing Vegemite six months ago.
"We have completely stopped bringing it in," he said.
"(US authorities) have made a stance and there is nothing that can be done about it."
You know what to do. Go to SaveVegemite.com, or just e-mail the White House direct.