Voluntary fortification of bread with folic acid is already making a difference, Food Safety Minister Kate Wilkinson says.
The government announced last week it would not make it mandatory for bakers to add folic acid to bread, with critics of the move saying it was a severe blow to unborn children.
Folic acid can cut the risk of babies having neural-tube defects such as spina bifida.
Ms Wilkinson said on Sunday that 17 per cent of bread already was fortified with folic acid and bakers voluntarily were aiming for about 50 per cent of bread lines.
"We've noticed even in the last couple of years since we've had the folic acid working group ... that's actually resulted in an increased folate level in women. So, actually, the voluntary fortification that's been going on already has been making a difference," she told TVNZ's Q + A programme on Sunday.
She said last week's decision was based purely on consumer consultation and not on fears that mandatory fortification could raise the risk of cancer.
"Consumer choice was really the one that made the most difference in terms of the decision. When you've got two-thirds of the submitters actually wanting that choice, rather than debating the science, then that's what we listened to."
Around 24 children a year are born with neural-tube defects.