The UK government will finalize its decision on mandatory folic acid fortification of white flour next year following blood folate tests, says the Department of Health (DoH).
Last month questions on mandatory fortification re-surfaced in the UK’s House of Lords during parliamentary question time. At the time, Under Secretary of State, Earl Howe said the government was waiting for data on the folate status of the UK population from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey before making a final decision.
A spokesperson for the DoH told BakeryandSnacks.com that these results were likely to come in next year, enabling the government to make a final decision.
Risks must be considered
Earl Howe warned the House of Lords last month of the risks associated with fortification that needed to be considered.
“There is a potential for significant numbers of the population to be pushed above the guideline upper limit for folic acid. We have to take those issues seriously in reaching a balanced decision. It is right that the government balance both the risks and the benefits of a policy that would see the mandatory fortification of a staple food.”
Mandatory fortification is recommended by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) but with controls on voluntary fortification and advice on supplementation. Too much folic acid in the diet can increase the risk of colorectal adenomas or colorectal cancer in the over 50s and can mask the symptoms of vitamin B deficiency, they say.
Nevertheless, according to the FSA there is strong evidence that increasing folic acid intake before pregnancy and in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy reduces the risk of neural tube defects. It says that 50% of pregnancies in the UK are unplanned and approximately 700 to 900 pregnancies are affected by neural tube defects each year in the UK.
Voluntary fortification already happening
Some food manufacturers already voluntarily fortify certain cereals and margarines with folic acid. However mandatory fortification of flour could put an end to voluntary measures as certain consumers may be tipped over the recommended levels.
Gordon Polson, director of the Federation of Bakers said that folic acid fortification needed to be taken seriously, and so far, the UK government had not felt it had all the information necessary to make a decision.
“Adding folic acid to flour is not the-be-all and the end-all of the issue - it’s a lot more complicated than that and the decision isn’t being taken lightly. There is voluntary fortification to consider as well as assessing current blood folate levels in consumers. A strong communication campaign is also needed to target people who do need folic acid supplementation.”
When a decision is finally reached it could take a further two years to implement, adds Polson. “A consultation period will follow any agreement and then we will need to discuss the logistics of implementation; it’s a long process. Either way it is out of the industry’s hands; we don’t take a stand on medical opinion.”