Governments consult on fortifying flour

Thursday 13th June 2019

A consultation has been launched on adding folic acid to flour in the UK to ensure expectant mothers get the nutrients they need to reduce birth defects, particularly in the early stages of pregnancy.

Evidence from the Scientific Advisory Committee of Nutrition suggests expectant mothers can take folic acid during pregnancy to significantly reduce the risk of foetal abnormalities including spina bifida – where the membranes around the spine do not close properly and in some cases affect walking or mobility.

Anencephaly – where the majority of the brain never develops – is another abnormality it is hoped fortification could help reduce.

Approximately 700 to 900 pregnancies are affected by neural tube defects each year in the UK.

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.

However, around half of pregnancies in the UK are unplanned, so many women miss out on these nutrients early in their pregnancy.

Launching the consultation today, Joe FitzPatrick, Minister for Public Health, said:

“The Scottish Government advocates mandatory folic acid fortification in flour as the best way to reduce the risk of neural tube defects such as Spina Bifida in newborn babies.

“Since April 2017, we have provided free vitamins to all pregnant women, which includes the recommended dose of folic acid. However, we know folic acid supplements are not always taken on time and that many pregnancies are unplanned.

“In partnership with the UK Government and other devolved nations, we have today launched a joint consultation on proposals for UK-wide action to address this issue.

“We look forward to looking at the responses from the public and industry and will take into account all views on the matter.”