Consultation begins on folic acid being added to flour in the UK

The UK may join other countries who are currently adding folic acid to flour to reduce serious birth defects.

A photo of a table and rolling pin covered in flour

Pregnancy news, 18/10/2018 [updated 14/06/2019]

In 2018, health ministers for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland backed the idea of adding folic acid to bread flour after evidence showed that it could protect babies from spina bifida, or other problems with their spine or neural tube.

Women are currently advised to take a daily 400mcg folic acid supplement at least two months before they start trying for a baby and for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, unless their BMI is over 30. In this case, the dosage recommended is often higher. However, many women still don’t know about the importance of the supplement and are unclear about when they need to take it or for how long, with only 14% of women in a recent pre-conception survey by Tommy’s being aware they needed to start taking it before stopping contraception.

"Through all our work improving safety in pregnancy it has always been very clear that simply recommending to women that folic acid is taken is not enough. The message is not getting to women in time, or in many cases at all. Adding it to flour will save the lives of babies as well as the devastation of the 2 parents a week who are currently getting the news that their baby is affected by a neural tube defect that requires lifelong intensive medical care."Jane Brewin, Chief Executive of Tommy’s

Another issue is that the crucial stage of neural tube development happens in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, when some women may not even be aware that they’re pregnant.

The UK currently has one of the highest rates of neural tube defects in Europe, with around 2 babies born each week in a serious condition. And a study also showed that an additional 2 pregnancies are terminated each day in the UK because of neural tube defects.

The Government has now launched its consultation on whether folate should be added to flour in a bid to cut the number of babies born with avoidable, and in many cases life-threatening, problems.

Why aren’t we doing it already?

Previous UK governments resisted calls to fortify foods with folate over concerns that too much folic acid could be harmful to the public. However, nutritionists and medical experts now believe this is untrue following a re-examination of old data.

More than 60 countries now fortify foods with folic acid, including Australia where neural tube defects fell 14% after it was introduced.

Fortification is supported by:

  • The Royal College of Midwives
  • Public Health England
  • the British Pregnancy Advisory Service
  • Many nutritionists and clinical experts.

What now?

Women should continue to take the recommended amount of folic acid.

Find out more about why folic acid is important for a baby’s development.

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    Please note that these comments are monitored but not answered by Tommy’s. Please call your GP or maternity unit if you have concerns about your health or your baby’s health.
    • By Lucy Lillywhite (not verified) on 19 Oct 2018 - 23:41

      Hi, You have stated an incorrect recommended dosage - it should be 400mcg not mg. Would have been great to mention about higher dose folic acid which is quite commonly advised as per recommendations for BMI’s over 30!

    • By Midwife @Tommys on 23 Oct 2018 - 13:37

      Thank you for advising about this typing error. It has now been corrected.

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