Industry support for folic acid recommendation

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Folic acid Fsa

The decision by the UK's Food Standards Agency to recommend
mandatory fortification of either bread or flour with folic acid
has met with a positive response, both from the bakery industry and
medical researchers.

The board of the government agency unanimously agreed on Thursday to recommend mandatory fortification of some foods with folic acid. This followed a final consultation with stakeholders and support from the FSA's Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN). It has not yet been decided whether folic acid will be added to flour or to bread - that decision will be made at next month's board meeting, as will the advice formally issued to health ministers thereafter. But in the meantime, the Federation of Bakers has signalled its support for the move. The federation strongly advises that fortification of flour at the milling stage is the most viable solution. "We have worked closely with the FSA up to now and welcome further discussions to reach a practical answer to the logistics of introducing folic acid into flour,"​ said federation director Gordon Polson. The federation's positive viewpoint differs wildly from that of bakers in other countries where parallel measures are being considered to reduce the numbers of pregnancies affected by neutral tube defects. In Australia and New Zealand the proposal has been strongly opposed by both large bakers and smaller firms, especially organic bakeries. The baking industry claims the proposal ignores both up-to-date information on women's current diets as well as adequate knowledge of the risks to others in the population from consuming more folic acid. There is some evidence to show that folic acid could mask deficiency of other B vitamins in the elderly, and there are also fears of the effects of large amounts of folic acid in young children. Meanwhile organic bakers say that they cannot add a synthetic vitamin to their products that are by definition free of all additives. Australia and New Zealand's Food Regulation Ministerial Council was due to make its final decision on a positive recommendation by the food safety body FSANZ last October, but it decided to review the matter further. Bakers throughout Australia and New Zealand will be expected to pick up the costs, which some local media reports suggest could reach about Aus$ 11m (€6.7m). A spokesperson for the FSA told on Friday that it is impossible to speculate at this stage whether any assistance will be given to manufacturers in the UK. "Details like that will be unanswered until the ministers make their decision,"​ she said. The Medical Research Council (MRC) has also come out in support of the FSA decision, saying that an international clinical trial, conducted by the MRC and published in 1991, showed that giving pregnant women supplements of folic acid reduced the risk of major birth defects of the brain and spine. MRC chief executive Prof Colin Blakemore said: "There is clear evidence that folic acid prevents devastating birth defects and it is good to see this important British discovery moving into public health policy here… The Food Standards Agency has done a careful assessment of the benefits and any possible risks before making this recommendation."

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