The Government is to announce that folic acid will be added to flour – except gluten free and wholemeal – in a move to prevent birth defects.
Deficiency of folic acid – also known as vitamin B9 – can cause neural tube defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly in unborn babies.
Spina bifida occurs when a foetus’s spine and spinal cord don’t develop properly and create a gap in the spine, whilst babies affected by anencephaly are born without parts of the brain and skull.
Women who want to get pregnant are advised to take 400 micrograms of folic acid a month before conception and for the first three months of the pregnancy. However, with 50% of pregnancies in the UK being unplanned, expectant mothers often don’t take the supplement for the required time.
With the high rate of consumption of non wholemeal wheat flour in the form of bread, biscuits, cake and pastries, the Government is hoping that fortifying flour with folic acid will prevent up to 200 birth defects a year.
The NHS estimates that around 1,000 neural tube defects (NTDs) pregnancies are diagnosed each year.
Over 80 countries around the world already add vitamin B9 to flour, including most European countries, Canada and New Zealand.