A 12-week public consultation has begun to discuss plans to add folic acid to flour in the UK in the hopes this could prevent 200 birth defects a year.
Health departments in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are asking for the public’s opinion on the proposal. Over 60 countries worldwide already add folic acid to their flour, including Australia, Canada and the US.
Folic acid, also known as vitamin B9, is essential to the development of a healthy baby during early pregnancy. Low levels of it can lead to babies being born with brain, spine and spinal cord problems called neural tube defects (NTDs). Around 1,000 pregnancies are diagnosed with neural tube defects each year in the UK, with 50 per cent of affected infants suffering from spina bifida. Over 40 per cent of NTDs are fatal.
As over half of pregnancies in the UK are unplanned, there are concerns that women are often not getting enough folic acid. It is recommended that women take a daily supplement of 400 micrograms of folic acid before they conceive and during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
“We all want to give our children the best start in life and a birth defect diagnosis is devastating for parents,” said public health minister Seema Kennedy. “The simple measure of adding folic acid to flour would help spare hundreds of families from such a life-changing event.”
“Women from the poorest areas are less likely to take folic acid supplements and it is right that we do all we can to protect the most vulnerable in society,” she added.