F.S.A. board recommends folic acid fortification

by Eric Schroeder
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NOTTINGHAM, ENGLAND — The Food Standards Agency’s board on Thursday unanimously agreed that a form of mandatory fortification of a food with folic acid should be recommended to U.K. health ministers.

According to the F.S.A., the mandatory fortification would be part of a package of measures to help prevent neural tube defects (NTDs), which may result in miscarriage, neonatal death or lifelong disability. In addition, the board asked for more work to consider whether folic acid should be added to either bread or flour and agreed that controls on voluntary fortification were an essential part of its recommendation.

At its open board meeting held May 17 in Nottingham, the board debated a range of options to increase folate intakes of young women in order to prevent pregnancies affected by NTDS such as spina bifida. Currently there are between 700 and 900 such pregnancies each year, the F.S.A. said.

The F.S.A. said its decision to recommend adding folic acid to either bread or flour also will improve the diets of 13 million people who currently don’t eat enough folate. However, the board stressed it wants controls on voluntary addition of folic acid to products such as breakfast cereals and spreads. The board also said it wants clearer public advice on the taking of supplements to prevent over consumption by some groups.

The United States has fortified flour with folic acid since 1998, resulting in a drop of more than a quarter in such birth defects.

"The Food Standards Agency is committed to policy-making that benefits people’s health," said Deirdre Hutton, chair of the F.S.A. "After a detailed discussion about this issue, there was unanimous and strong support for recommending to health ministers that there be mandatory fortification of a food. The board also agreed that further exploration is needed on whether it should be flour or bread that is fortified. The board recognizes that this move, as part of a package of measures, will help prevent birth defects in pregnancy and have wider health benefits for the rest of the population. The board was also reassured by the significant science that the benefits outweigh potential risks." The issue of whether it is bread or flour, and considerations around appropriate labeling, will be discussed by at the next F.S.A. board meeting in June, at which point the F.S.A. will make its final recommendation to UK health ministers.

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