Fortification of flour with folic acid is to become mandatory in the UK, according to national media reports.
The Guardian this weekend claimed Downing Street had approved the move following pressure from doctors, scientists and baby health campaigners.
There have been calls to fortify flour with folic acid because of its benefits for pregnant women, including preventing neural tube defects in babies. Fortification has been backed by health ministers in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland but the Department of Health has not done so.
According to The Guardian’s report, ministers have now been convinced by advisers that fortification would reduce the risk of babies developing spina bifida and other conditions, and that the new policy will be introduced in the next few weeks.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson today said ministers were considering expert advice and would respond in due course.
The Federation of Bakers today said it was happy to work with government while they considered this, and would work with them to introduce it should that be their decision.
The National Association of British and Irish Flour Millers (Nabim) said it had always held the view that it was for the government to decide on matters of public health policy.
“Should ministers propose mandatory fortification of flour or bread with folic acid, as reports suggest they might, we would work with the government to find the best way of achieving this,” Nabim director general Alex Waugh told British Baker.
Pressure for fortification was ramped up earlier this year with the publication of a scientific paper that stated a current 1mg/day upper limit for folic acid intake – cited by some as a reason for not fortifying flour - was unnecessary and should be removed.
Currently, iron, calcium carbonate, thiamin (vitamin B1) and niacin must be added to all wheat flour (except wholemeal flour) at the milling stage of processing flour.]
Last month, Allied Bakeries launched a Kingsmill 50/50 Vitamin Boost loaf that it said provided 38% of the reference intake for folic acid in two slices.