The Government is considering forcing food manufacturers to add folic acid to bread to prevent babies being born with spina bifida.
At least 300 babies a year in the UK develop neural tube defects, with spina bifida being the most common, the highest rate in Europe.
The Sunday Times reported that Health Ministers are set to decide on the proposals when they see the latest results of the National Diet and Nutrition Survey, a rolling survey assessing the country’s dietary habits, which could end a 23-year-long debate on the subject.
Mandatory fortification is already used in 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.
Following an article that appeared on the Telegraph website, on 16th February, the spina bifida charity Shine gave the following response:
“The groundbreaking MRC study in 1991 showed overwhelmingly that taking folic acid before pregnancy helped reduce the risk of neural tube defects such as spina bifida.
In the twenty years that have passed since, Shine has been campaigning for a decision to be made on whether the UK’s flour should have folic acid added, a move which fifty other nations have already taken, yet all we have experienced is repeated delays.
With the NDNS report about to be published, we believe that this decision, that is, whether to implement the advice of the government’s own scientific advisers and add folic acid to flour, will finally be made.
Around 900 families every year are told that their unborn baby has a serious, disabling yet potentially preventable condition. Shine has worked tirelessly to get women to take supplements containing folic acid at the right time and the correct dosage before becoming pregnant, but with so many pregnancies in the UK unplanned, fortification of flour would ensure that all babies could potentially benefit.”