Government could force manufacturers to add folic acid to bread

Government could force manufacturers to add folic acid to bread



The Government is considering forcing food manufacturers to add folic acid to bread to prevent babies being born with spina bifida. Mandatory fortification could prevent at least 300 babies a year from developing neural tube defects, of which the UK has the highest rates in Europe and spina bifida is the most common. Health Ministers will decide on the proposals and end a 23-year-long debate when they see the latest results of the National Diet and Nutrition Survey, a rolling survey assessing the country’s dietary habits, the Sunday Times reported.


Professor Roger Bayston, chairman of the medical advisory committee of spina bifida charity Shine, believes that based on other recent research it is likely to show that the population is not getting enough folate, the naturally occurring form Vitamin B9, and could therefore push the Government into action.  Mandatory fortification is already used more than 50 countries, including the USA and Canada, where research suggests it reduces the rate of neural tube defects by 25 to 50 per cent. Research dating back to the early 1990s has shown that taking folic acid tablets in early pregnancy results in a 72 per cent reduction in neural tube defects in unborn babies.


A number of charities and health bodies, including The British Medical Association, have long campaigned to force manufacturers to add folic acid, the synthetic form of Vitamin B9, to bread flour. The move is also supported by Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, who is wheelchair bound as a result of her spina bifida. A Department of Health spokesperson said they are “currently considering the case of mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid and will reach a decision in the light of new data from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey." The BMA estimate that neural tube defects affects up to 900 pregnancies in the UK each year, and their board of science chair Averil Mansfield has urged the Government to “save lives with our daily bread”.


Women are advised to take folic acid supplements by their doctors and midwives once they know they are pregnant, but experts say anomalies occur when a foetus is 28 days old, before many are aware they are expecting.


However, critics warn that excess folic acid could hide other conditions, such as a deficiency of vitamin B12 in the elderly, which could lead to anaemia. Professor Bayston said that the debate had been raging for years and had been stymied by “scare stories” associating folic acid with health problems including cancer. “All the discussions of risk that have being going to and fro have come to nothing and we have to accept that the so called dangers of folic acid are not borne out by the evidence.” He said mandatory fortification would be a “major step forward”, adding that folic acid has been shown to have a range of health benefits, and has been found to impact on certain types of cancer and cardio vascular disease. The move is supported by the industry, he said, who are waiting for the official ruling.


By Hayley Dixon

The Telegraph, the 16th of February, 2014.

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