Following a consultation, the UK government moves closer to adding folic acid to non-wholemeal flour to prevent spina bifida in foetuses.
Pregnant women are required to take folic acid to help the development of the baby’s brain and spine. If the pregnant woman does not receive adequate levels of folic acid, this can lead to life-changing conditions such as spina bifida.
It is reported by the UK government that the number of pregnancies affected by conditions such as spina bifida could fall by over a fifth if they move toward adding folic acid to non-wholemeal flour.
What is folic acid?
Folic acid is the synthetic version of the vitamin folate. This vitamin helps the body create healthy red blood cells and is found in certain foods. Not only is it used for helping babies develop their brain, skull and spinal cord to avoid problems like spina bifida, but it is also used to prevent deficiencies and reduce side effects from methotrexate.
Preventing spina bifida and other life-threatening conditions
The latest consultation with industry and stakeholders questioned whether folic acid should be added to non-wholemeal flour. This health policy has already been implemented and is successful in Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. The government is now consulting on adding 250 micrograms of folic acid per 100 grams of flour.
Spina bifida and other neural tube defects are rare; however, they do occur very early in pregnancy, affecting around 1,000 pregnancies yearly in the UK. By adding folic acid to foods made with flour, this could mean that 200 spina bifida and other defects are avoided each year – reducing the overall number of cases by 20%.
Defra Food Minister Victoria Prentis said: “It is vital that we consult on this issue to understand views on all of our proposed amendments to bread and flour regulations.
“Folic acid fortification is an example of how we can ensure the public receives the nutrition we require through everyday food products.”
The government’s Bread and Flour Regulations consultation propose adding 250 micrograms of folic acid per 100 grams of non-wholemeal flour.
Minister for Public Health Maggie Throup said: “Neural tube defects can have a devastating impact on life expectancy and quality of life.
“This simple step will ensure more women who might be pregnant, or who are trying to conceive, will have increased intakes of folic acid, leading to a large reduction in the number of foetuses affected by NTDs each year.
“I want to encourage anyone with an interest in this issue to participate in the consultation and help us deliver life-saving changes.”