Views sought on adding folic acid to flour to help prevent birth defects

A 12-week public consultation has been launched to find out people’s views on proposals to add folic acid to flour and explore what kinds of products it should be included in.

Folic acid, or vitamin B9, is essential to the development of a healthy baby during early pregnancy. Not having enough of it can lead to babies being born with brain, spine and spinal cord problems known as ‘neural tube defects’.

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.

More than 60 countries worldwide now add folic acid to their flour, including Australia, Canada and the US. In Australia, neural tube defects fell 14% after it introduced the legal requirement to add folic acid to bread flour.

UK wheat flour millers already have to add thiamine, niacin and iron to restore what is lost in the milling process and calcium for health benefits.

Kate Steele, Chief Executive of spina bifida charity, Shine, 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."

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