In an effort to trim 'red tape', the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is reviewing the current requirement for fortification under the UK Bread and Flour Regulations. These mandate the addition of iron, calcium, thiamin and niacin to all wheat flour apart from wholemeal.
SACN looked at nutrient intakes and modelled the impact of eliminating compulsory fortification. The Committee found it would increase the proportion of children aged 1118 who consume calcium at a level that would "almost certainly be inadequate for most individuals" from 15% to 21% in girls and from 8% to 12% in boys.
Girls and women would be the most affected by the removal of iron, with the proportion of girls aged 1118 with intakes below the so-called Lower Reference Nutrient Intake (LRNI) rising from 44 to 50%, for instance. However, there are questions about how well the iron used in fortification is absorbed.
"If individual needs for these nutrients are not met with other foods this could lead to a deficiency in calcium and/or iron, possibly leading to poor bone health in the case of calcium and anaemia in the case of iron," said Dr Áine O'Connor, nutrition scientist with the British Nutrition Foundation.
"We are in agreement with the opinion of SACN that if the Regulations are repealed, guidance to manufacturers on appropriate levels of these fortificants to be added on a voluntary basis should be considered. However, it may be harder to control intakes of these nutrients at a population level given that these fortificants could be added to a number of products."
Industry is cautious about the impact of the proposed changes on the level playing field in fortification. "People would be free to fortify or not and there might be a greater variety of fortified flour and the potential for greater confusion in the market," said Gordon Polson, director of the Federation of Bakers.
"Importantly, it's now straightforward at the milling stage."