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Scotland could add folic acid to flour

But the Department of Health says it is 'still considering the matter'

Mark Gould

Monday, 25 January 2016

Scottish Public Health Minister Maureen Watt says Scotland is considering whether to add folic acid to flour as concern mounts that there could be an increase in birth defects.

Any move by Scotland could lead to folic acid being added to flour-based products UK-wide, as this would be the easiest solution for commercial bakers.

Folic acid plays a crucial role in preventing neural tube defects such as spina bifida. But 85% of women do not take enough.

Government advisers have recommended adding folic acid to flour for 16 years but the Department of Health says it is still "considering the matter".

In the meantime, some food manufacturers have reduced the amount of folic acid they add to other foods, such as cereals, in anticipation of the fortification of flour.

Experts say that this means children are at higher risk of birth defects.

Campaign group Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalis Scotland wants to find ways of increasing folate uptake to prevent Neural Tube Defects (NTD), of which spina bifida is the most common. The organisation says that historically Scotland has had a higher prevalence of NTDs than the rest of Europe. The latest figures available in Scotland confirms that over 1 in every 1000 pregnancies are affected. It says that talking the correct amounts of folic acid could prevent up to 72% of NTDs.

The Scottish government says it would have preferred a UK-wide approach but has grown increasingly frustrated with the lack of progress. It is particularly concerned as unplanned pregnancies are more common in deprived communities.

Ms Watt said: "The Scottish government has been convinced of the case for mandatory fortification for some time. Folate levels are a concern across the UK, but particularly so in Scotland and Northern Ireland. "We are disappointed that, despite repeated lobbying from a number of sources, there has been no progress at UK level on mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid.

"I have recently written again to the UK government to press for a decision on this important issue.

"I, along with my counterparts in Wales and Northern Ireland, will consider how we might progress this should a decision not be forthcoming from the UK government."

The Food and Drink Federation said: "From a practical point of view, manufacturers would favour a harmonised situation across the UK rather than Scotland 'going it alone' on mandatory folic acid fortification.

"Precise implications of such a situation are not yet clear due to on-going UK government consultation on the Bread and Flour Regulations.

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