Adding folic acid to bread may be unnecessary and could expose people to potential risks, according to a study published in the BMC Public Health journal.
However, nutrition experts have said bakers will have to "watch this space" concerning the outcome of a current review being carried out by the Scien-tific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN).
The findings of a study in Dublin, published earlier this month, reiterated previous research, suggesting that mandatory fortification may exacerbate the risk of colorectal cancer. Until now, health organisations have recommended that pregnant women take supplements to reduce the risk of foetal neural tube defects such as spina bifida.Anna Denny, nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation said that, despite there being clear public health benefit of folic acid fortification, the issue "has to be exercised with caution".
In May 2007 the Food Standards Agency (FSA) Board agreed unanimously that ’mandatory fortification’ with folic acid should be introduced. But in October 2007, the chief medical officer asked SACN to look at two further papers - which came out after the SACN’s initial recommendations and suggested that folic acid may increase the risk of colorectal cancer.
"It’s very important that the result of these studies are reviewed thoroughly, as it could have huge implications for both the baking industry and for public health as a whole," added Denny.
"SACN is expected to advise the chief medical officer of its recommendation in the autumn on mandatory fortification with folic acid," said an FSA spokesperson. The recommendation will then be considered by UK Health Ministers.
In March this year, the Food Safety Authority in Ireland advised against the mandatory fortification of bread with folic acid and recent plans by the government in New Zealand to add it to bread were also scrapped. However, voluntary fortification has now been agreed.