Folic acid is to be added to flour to help protect babies from birth defects such as spina bifida
- Folic acid will be added to bread in a bid to prevent devastating birth defects
- Vitamin B9 as it is known is essential to healthy development in early pregnancy
- Ministers thought to have stalled for fear of a backlash over ‘mass medication’
- Comes as a major victory for campaigners and scientists who called for change
Folic acid will be added to flour to save babies from devastating medical conditions, ministers said yesterday.
The announcement is a major victory for campaigners and scientists who – backed by the Daily Mail – have been calling for the change for over a decade.
Folic acid, which is also known as vitamin B9, is essential to healthy development during early pregnancy and a deficiency can lead to neural tube defects in the foetus such as spina bifida.
Women who are trying to become pregnant are advised to take a daily supplement of 400 micrograms of folic acid before they conceive and during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
But many women do not follow the advice and the Government’s scientific advisers recommended as long ago as 2006 that folic acid be added to flour to ensure women do not suffer deficiencies.
The government has launched a 12-week consultation on whether folic acid should be added to flour in a bid to cut birth defects
Ministers are thought to have stalled for fear of a backlash over ‘mass medication’.
Charities point out that flour and bread already have other vitamins and minerals added to them – synthetic iron, calcium and two other B vitamins, thiamin and nicotinic acid.
And 81 other countries, including the USA and Canada, have been adding folic acid to flour to help protect developing babies.
In Australia, neural tube defects fell 14 per cent following the mandatory fortification of bread with folic acid.
There are around 1,000 cases in the UK each year. The Government last night announced a 12-week public consultation on the plans, but made it clear it wants to see fortification carried out.
Public health minister Seema Kennedy said: ‘A birth defect diagnosis is devastating for parents.
The simple measure of adding folic acid to flour would help spare hundreds of families from such a life-changing event.’
Kate Steele of Shine, a charity which supports spina bifida families, said: ‘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.’
About 85 per cent of neural tube cases result in a termination, miscarriage or stillbirth.