Dame Deirdre Hutton, chair of the Food Standards Agency (FSA), urged fellow board members to agree that folic acid fortification would be better suited to all white and brown wheat flour at its board meeting last week.
The FSA proposes that folic acid be added to flour to help prevent neural tube defects (NTDs), which can result in miscarriage, infant death or lifelong disability.
With the decision made less than a month ago to recommend mandatory fortification to UK health ministers, the aim of the FSA’s open meeting on 14 June was to decide particulars.
The suggestion that fortification should take place at the bread-making stage was quashed because of inconsistency issues. Adding folate at the mill was deemed more logical, as niacin, calcium, iron and thiamine are also added at this stage.
Board members proceeded to debate which flours would most benefit from fortification. The variables included: all wheat flour; all white and brown wheat flour; and white and brown bread-making flour.
Dame Deirdre said: "We decided in our last meeting that we would aim to reduce the number of NTD-affected pregnancies by 11% to 18% and save between 77 and 162 NTD pregnancies per year. If we decide to limit fortification to only white bread-making flour then we will not meet this target."
However, the proposed target could be achieved by fortifying all white and brown wheat flour, according to the FSA’s calculations.
"It is essential to provide a degree of choice," she continued. "Products made with wholemeal flour, therefore, would provide a minimum choice."
Worries that some groups may over-consume folic acid came to light and the board decided that voluntary fortification of products such as breakfast cereals and spreads must be tightly regulated.
It was also agreed that the public needs better guidance, especially women taking folic acid supplements, and that products containing folate must be labelled.
The FSA’s recommendation package will shortly be made to UK health ministers.