Flour in UK ‘to be fortified with folic acid to reduce birth defects’

Flour in the UK is to be fortified with folic acid in a move to help reduce birth defects, reports suggest.

Medics have long called for the move, saying that it could reduce the incidence of conditions such as spina bifida.

Pregnant women, and those trying to conceive, are urged by health officials to take a daily supplement of 400 micrograms of folic acid, at least until the 12th week of pregnancy.

But many women do not take the supplements – especially if a pregnancy is unplanned.

The NHS Choices website says that folic acid is important to foetus growth and can significantly reduce the risk of neural tube defects such as spina bifida.

The Guardian reported that ministers have backed a plan to fortify flour with folic acid – which already happens in more than 80 countries.

A handful of flour
The policy could be introduced within weeks (Danny Lawson/PA)

It has previously been recommended that wheat flour is fortified with folic acid to improve the "folate status" of the population and reduce the risk of these birth defects.

The newspaper said that the policy would be introduced within weeks.

Kate Steele, chief executive of the charity Shine, which helps families affected by neural tube defects, told the Guardian: "Mandatory fortification will be a game-changer for the UK.

"A Government decision to introduce mandatory fortification will mean a major positive impact for the health and well-being of babies born in the future. In many cases, it will be the difference between life and death."

Public Health England told the newspaper that fortifying flour with folic acid "is an effective and safe measure to reduce the number of pregnancies affected by neural tube defects".

A Department of Health and Social care spokeswoman said: "Ministers are considering expert advice and will respond in due course."

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