Fortification of flour with folic acid

23 July 2019

The UK government has opened a consultation seeking views on the proposal to introduce mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid.

Folic acid fortification helps to reduce the number of babies born with neural tube defects (NTDs), such as spina bifida, which occur during the development of the foetus in the first few weeks of pregnancy. There are about 1,000 affected pregnancies per year in the UK.

It is currently recommended for women to take folic acid supplements of 400micrograms (mg) during the three months before conception and the first 12 weeks of pregnancy to protect against NTDs. Women with coeliac disease are recommended to take an extra 5mg as a precaution in case of ongoing malabsorption. This higher dosage is also recommended for women with Type 1 diabetes and women taking epilepsy drugs.

In the UK it is estimated that around half of pregnancies are unplanned and that 90% of women aged 16-49 have a folate status below the level recommended to reduce the risk of NTDs. As a result, many mothers will not be taking folic acid supplements in the crucial months before and up to the 12th week of pregnancy.

Fortifying flour with folic acid is predicted to help raise folate levels in women who could become pregnant. More than 60 countries worldwide, including the US, Canada and Australia have already adopted folic acid fortification, all resulting in declining levels of NTDs

The consultation lays out three main policy options:

  • Do nothing
  • Mandate fortification with folic acid of UK-milled non-wholemeal wheat flour used for breadmaking
  • Mandate the fortification with folic acid of all UK-milled non-wholemeal wheat flour

There are other options to be considered in the consultation such as if a wider range of flours, including gluten free flours could be fortified. Coeliac UK will be responding to this consultation asking for equivalency of fortification for gluten free flours so that people with coeliac disease will also benefit from fortification.

If you would like to have your say please respond here.

The consultation closes on 9 September 2019.

Back to news listings