Government will consult on folic acid fortification
A government consultation to consider the evidence around folic acid fortification will launch in early 2019, public health minister Steve Brine has confirmed.
The mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid to prevent fetal abnormalities, such as spina bifida and anencephaly, will be discussed as well as the practicality and safety.
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, which is a deficiency in the production of red blood cell.
The plans to fortify flour with folic acid are thought to be an effective way of reaching those with the lowest folate intakes – for example younger women from the most deprived backgrounds.
The proposal already has the support of the UK Chief Medical Officers and the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (the independent body that provides scientific advice on diet and nutrition to the UK governments).
Steve said that all women should be able to access the nutrients they need for a healthy pregnancy and in turn, reduce the risk of devastating complications.
‘We have been listening closely to experts, health charities and medical professionals and we have agreed that now is the right time to explore whether fortification in flour is the right approach for the UK. My priority is to make sure that if introduced, we are certain it is safe and beneficial for all,’ he added.
RCM professional policy advisor Clare Livingstone said: ‘Many pregnancies are not planned, meaning many women will not have taken folic acid around the time of conception and very early in their pregnancy. This is when folic acid is most effective and that is why this announcement is so important.
‘This will significantly help to reduce the number of fetal anomalies related to folic acid deficiency. This means fewer babies will be born with neural tube defects, and the sooner this is done, the sooner this will start to happen.’
Claire added that introducing the mandatory fortification of flour will bring the UK in line with many other countries including the US and Canada.
‘They have this in place because the evidence about the benefits of this is very strong. The impact of this in those countries has been marked in reducing incidences of fetal abnormality,’ she explained.
Claire said that the RCM will be responding to the consultation and urges the government to introduce this as soon as possible following the consultation.