Scotland is considering introducing mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid in an effort to reduce the number of children born with birth defects.
As reported by the BBC, the move comes after frustration at the lack of action taken by the Department of Health (DH). Despite a recent report published by Archives of Diseases in Childhood saying fortification could have prevented around 2,000 UK cases of neural tube defects (NTDs) since 1998, the DH has said it is “still considering the matter”.
Maureen Watt, minister for public health in Scotland, said: “The Scottish government has been convinced of the case for mandatory fortification for some time. Folate levels are a concern across the UK, but particularly so in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
“We are disappointed that, despite repeated lobbying from a number of sources, there has been no progress at UK level on mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid. I have recently written again to the UK government to press for a decision on this important issue.”
She added: “I, along with my counterparts in Wales and Northern Ireland, will consider how we might progress this should a decision not be forthcoming from the UK government.”
It is understood that, should Scotland press ahead with legislation, some bread manufacturers would add folic acid to all their UK products rather than catering specifically to the Scottish market.
The move received support from Food Standards Scotland (FSS), with a spokesperson saying: "Food Standards Scotland work with the Scottish government on folic acid and entirely agree with their position."
The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) was more cautious, saying it favoured a unified UK policy on the issue rather than “Scotland ‘going it alone’ on mandatory folic acid fortification”.
It said: "Precise implications of such a situation are not yet clear due to ongoing UK government consultation on the Bread and Flour Regulations.
"If mandatory folic acid fortification is introduced, voluntary practices should be allowed to continue, and FDF members will work with the government to ensure this is done responsibly to prevent the risk of overconsumption."
While Folic Acid, also known as Vitamin B9, is found in certain foods such as green vegetables, nuts and granary bread, it is considered to be very difficult for pregnant women to get enough through diet alone.
Andy Wynd, chief executive of Spina Bifida Hydrocephalus Scotland (SBH Scotland), said: "In Scotland it is thought that nearly 50% of pregnancies are unplanned and mothers-to-be will not have increased folic acid intake prior to conception.
"SBH Scotland believe that mandatory fortification will make a significant difference to the many planned and unplanned pregnancies diagnosed with neural tube defects, of which spina bifida is the most common."