The folic debate

25 May, 2007
The proposed addition of folic acid to flour or bread has met with a mixed response, as Andrew Williams discovers
Page 19 
Calls to fortify flour or bread with folic acid to prevent pre-natal malformations of foetuses have been echoing for over a decade. Now, following prevarication, procrastination and consultation, there is finally an end in sight.
Not, however, before The Food Standards Agency squeezes in one more meeting in June, where it says it will finally decide whether to recommend fortification to either bread or flour. Either way, the issue has split the industry, with views ranging from 'Let's just get on with it', to vociferous opposition against further tinkering with bread.Professor Robert Pickard, director general, The British Nutrition Foundation"You will see all sorts of red herring claims about the disadvantages of doing this [such as folic acid masking vitamin B12 deficiency], but the proposal the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition put to the FSA offers a strategy for dealing with these possible 'dis-benefits' that would be to the public benefit."As 10% of British women carry a mutation that makes it difficult for them to recycle folate in their bodies, it is incumbent on the informed to help the less well-informed and there's nobody less well-informed than an unborn child."Professor Jeya Henry, Oxford Brookes University"Fortification is likely to play a much more important role in giving people nutrients, especially among baked products, because they are a staple of our diet."Based on the analysis of literature and the public health outcome that fortification of folic acid will have in reducing the risk of spina bifida, my view is that fortification would be something I would want to see supported."David Wright, director, Wright's flour mill"Millers already fortify brown and white flour, so for us to fortify brown and white flour with folic acid would be a practical solution. Wholemeal flour would then not be fortified, giving consumers that choice. But the cost - and who will bear it - needs to be borne in mind. Personally, I think there are more positives than negatives."Julian Hunt, communications director, Food & Drink Federation"While the board did agree that mandatory fortification was the best way forward, there are still some key questions on which the industry will be seeking clarity over the next month, such as whether appropriate labelling needs to be introduced." Joe Street, managing director, Fine Lady Bakeries"If there is to be fortification, then it should be in flour - I don't think it would be at all practical to do it through recipe changes in the bakery."I understand research has been done that says when you add it to the recipe, it leads to a lot of variation in the levels of folic acid [in the end product]."Chris Dabner, parliamentary officer, NA"Should the presence of folic acid appear on labelling? If so, should the four other statutory fortifications - calcium, iron, niacin and thiamine - also be labelled? Flour is present in thousands of products, often in small amounts; does this mean that there should be a minimum flour content in products before labelling is required?"Andrew Whitley, author, Bread Matters"The folate fortification debate reveals crucial faultlines in the development of our food system. Modern wheats contain a third fewer minerals than older varieties. Long fermentation increases the natural folate content of bread."The real choice is between medicalised nutrition or health based on the integrity and vitality of carefully grown and minimally processed crops." n



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