F.S.A. board gives go-ahead on folic acid plan

by Eric Schroeder
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NOTTINGHAM, ENGLAND — A little less than a month after agreeing that a form of mandatory fortification of a food with folic acid should be recommended to U.K. health ministers, the Food Standards Agency’s board on Thursday gave the agency the go-ahead to prepare plans to add folic acid to certain foods.

At its open board meeting held June 14 in Nottingham, the board discussed the practicalities of implementing mandatory fortification and controlling the voluntary addition of folic acid to products, such as breakfast cereals and spreads, to prevent over consumption by some groups.

In giving the go-ahead, the board identified a clear framework in which to work, including reducing the number of neural tube defects-affected pregnancies by 11% to 18%, and reducing the number of people consuming too little folate from 13.3 million to 5.6 million without increasing the number of people with intakes above the upper limit for folic acid.

The board said the F.S.A. should also provide a degree of consumer choice, consider the impact of mandatory fortification on industry while ensuring that public health takes priority, and ensure products are labeled.

The board already had agreed there should be clearer public advice on the taking of supplements to prevent over consumption by some groups.

"Having made our decision in principle last month, we have had a comprehensive discussion today about the practicalities," said Deidre Hutton, chair of the F.S.A. "I think it is clear where the responsibilities now lie and it is for agency officials to take forward the implementation of this package with industry and other stakeholders.

"This recommendation will prevent many birth defects and will have wider health benefits for the rest of the population."

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

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