In May, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) board voted unanimously that the mandatory fortification of baked goods with folic acid should be recommended to UK health ministers, to help prevent birth defects. The options were either to add folic acid to flour or bread. The BCCCA proposes that it should be bread.
While we support what the FSA is trying to achieve, we have serious concerns about its impact on the export market for biscuits and cakes, currently worth £80m per year. Despite the notion of free trade within Europe, there is evidence that certain markets do not accept the fortification of standard food products.
In countries that do permit fortification, there are often stringent requirements and significant administrative burdens attached, the costs of which are hidden in lower productivity. As it is the European export market that is the most significant for biscuit and cake manufacturers, these effects will pose large risks.
In addition to these costs and complexities, labelling changes will also be required, adding folic acid to the ingredients list of all flour-containing products made in the UK. The cost to biscuit and cake manufacturers would be in the region of £5m.
There can be no doubt that the UK cake and biscuit markets are highly competitive. The last few years have seen a series of biscuit and cake factory closures. Cost-effective exports are an essential part of making UK manufacturing viable.