The government will delay its decision to reintroduce folic acid into flour until 2015.
It follows speculation last month after Earl Howe, health minister in the House of Lords, told peers the government would press ahead and make a decision on the issue by Easter.
However, a spokesman for the Department of Health (DoH) said: "We have carefully considered the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition’s advice on folic acid.
"With a decision as important as the mandatory fortification of food, it is vital that we take the latest evidence into account. We believe we need information on the blood folate status of the population, which will be available in 2015, to inform our decision.”
According to Go Folic, part of charity Shine, a lack of folic acid contributes to a one in 1,000 chance that an unborn baby will develop spina bifida or a related condition in the womb. On average, 14 women each week in the UK receive the news that their baby is affected. Up to 72% of these cases could be reduced by getting the right amount of folic acid at the right time.
Gordon Polson, director of the Federation of Bakers, said: “This is a medical decision that has to be taken clearly by medical professionals advising the government, who obviously need to have the right information in front of them. They just don’t have that information yet. Those are just the facts and we need to get on with it.
“It’s something that has been on the agenda for many, many years, and it’s not going to matter if it takes another year. If they do reach a conclusion next May, that decision is subject to a consultation. We’re talking potentially two years after that as a result of a consultation and regulations being put in place.”