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Flour to be fortified with folic acid

New rules, announced by the government recently, will mean flour in the UK will have to be fortified with folic acid. These rules will apply to all non wholemeal wheat flour and will mean that the population will get more folic acid from their diets.

This decision has come after years of consultation looking at the positives and negatives of fortification. There was some concern that people having more folic acid in their diet may mean that this may cover up deficiency of Vitamin B12 or increase risk of specific cancers. However the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition has looked at the evidence and doesn’t find strong evidence to support this and other concerns.

Folic acid is especially important pre conception and in the early stages of pregnancy and can prevent neural tube defects (NTDs), such as spina bifida, from occurring. This is an abnormal development of the spine which can have life long and life limiting effects. However unplanned pregnancies, or women not knowing about the importance of supplementation, may mean that not all women have the 400mg supplement of folic acid that is recommended.

Fortification of flour with folic acid has been in place in many countries for several years. Australia introduced mandatory fortification over 10 years ago and has seen a 14% decrease in the occurrence of NTDs in the population. In the UK., neural tube defects affect around 1000 pregnancies each year.  It is estimated that introduction of this new policy will prevent about 200 birth defects a year.