Public health minister Steve Brine today (23 October) revealed the consultation would be launched in early 2019 to consider evidence folic acid could help prevent foetal abnormalities, as well as its practical and safe use.
Evidence from the Scientific Advisory Committee of Nutrition has suggested that expectant mothers could take the B vitamin during pregnancy to significantly reduce the risk of these abnormalities.
The Federation of Bakers said the baking industry had always responded to consumer needs and remained committed to responding positively to today’s announcement, pitching the fortification of bread as a medical decision.
Director Gordon Polson commented: “The Federation of Bakers welcomes the Government’s announcement today that it will consult on the mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid in a bid to tackle foetal abnormalities.”
The consultation will also consider if there are any risks to other members of the general public. These include whether additional folic acid in the diet will mask the diagnosis of conditions such as pernicious anaemia – a deficiency in the production of red blood cells.
Geoff Ogle, chief executive at Food Standards Scotland, said: “Food Standards Scotland believes that the UK Government’s announcement of its intention to consult on the mandatory fortification of white flour with folic acid is a welcome first step.
“The evidence shows that intake of folic acid remains low for many in Scotland, and we and Scottish Government have long been recommending that mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid, together with limits on other sources of dietary folic acid, should be taken forward on a UK-wide basis to reduce the number of babies born with neural tube defects.”
Benefit and improve lives
Chief medical officer Professor Dame Sally Davies added: “I am pleased to see the government taking action on this issue and hope to see the wider scientific community feed in their views to this important consultation, which could benefit and improve the lives of many women and babies in this country.
“As with any intervention of this kind, we need to be certain it is also safe, and that means considering what the wider implications would be for the rest of the population who eat flour.”
Meanwhile, as the Government cranks up its efforts to reduce the UK’s severe childhood obesity problem, questions on whether fibre could play a bigger role are emerging.