Ireland’s food safety body has advised against the mandatory fortification of bread with folic acid.
The implementation group on folic acid fortification said there would be no benefit to public health, because food manufacturers were now adding it to dairy spreads, fruit juices, milk, yoghurts, soups and cereal bars.

England’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) now has the results of two studies looking at the effect of folic acid on cancer and heart disease, and is likely to make its recommendation following a committee meeting in June. It had previously agreed flour should be fortified, before being encouraged by the chief medical officer to consider more studies.

However Alex Waugh, director general of nabim, said: “The two food bodies do talk and it may be that they sit down and have a discussion later in the year, but at the moment the tide is turning against inclusion in England and Ireland.”

Ireland’s national committee on folic acid fortification had recommended in 2005 that all bread should be fortified with folic acid on a mandatory basis. However, the implementation group found that women of child-bearing age now received 30% more folate in their diet, due to voluntary fortification across the food sector.

This was coupled with a reduction in the incidence of neural tube defects from 1/1.5 to 0.93 per 1,000 births during that time. It also pointed to preliminary and inconclusive data, which suggested a link between high levels of folic acid and certain cancers.

Alan Reilly, chairman of the implementation group and deputy chief executive of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, said the potential link between excessive folic acid intake and cancer was “inconsistent and inconclusive”, adding that new data was likely to be available later this year.

The Department of Health in Ireland is considering the report.