Back in February of this year we reported on the UK government's plans to fortify flour with folic acid, an attempt to bring the country in line with fortification guidelines in the EU that prevent birth defects such as spina bifida. Well, ministers have now revealed that they are moving ahead with these plans and are to launch a 12 week publication consultation investigating the types of products that should be included.
Folic acid deficiency among pregnant women is strongly linked to neural tube defects with babies being born with brain, spine, and spinal cord problems. The simple undertaking of adding folic acid to flour could spare hundreds of families the devastating news of a birth defect diagnosis.
60 countries worldwide are now adding folic acid to their flour
There are 60 countries worldwide that are now adding folic acid to their flour, including Australia, Canada and the United States, Switzerland practices voluntary fortification, with around 250 food products to which it applies. Ireland did the same at one point but the number of food to which folic acid is added has declined and this has correlated with an increase in the incidences of birth defects of the brain and spine.
The spina bifida charity Shine, has welcomed the latest news of the government's plans, which include Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The chief executive Kate Steele said:
"Shine is delighted that the consultation on how mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid will be introduced in the UK has now been launched."
"After more than 25 years of campaigning for this, we look forward to the day that mandatory fortification with folic acid finally becomes a reality."
"Its introduction will change many lives for the better by reducing the incidence of anencephaly and spina bifida. This relatively simple step will give new babies and children, and their families, the chance of happier, healthier lives."
The chief executive of Food Standards Scotland also champions the news, hailing it as an important step in improving public health:
"Food Standards Scotland welcomes the launch of the UK-wide consultation on the mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid."
"We, along with the Scottish Government, have long recommended that flour should be fortified with folic acid and limits on other sources of dietary folic acid introduced."
"We know that folic acid intake among people in Scotland remains low, so this is an important step in improving public health and, in particular, reducing the number of babies born with neural tube defects."
A recommendation of 400 micrograms daily of folic acid is given by the Uk's Department of Health for women trying to conceive up until the 12th week of pregnancy.
The European Food Standards Agency (EFSA) recommends 600 micrograms daily for pregnant women.
For those breastfeeding, an additional intake of 130 micrograms daily is advisable to cover what is lost via breast milk.