Celebrations for Peterborough charity after Government announce Folic Acid to be added to flour

A Peterborough charity is celebrating today after it was announced Folic Acid will be added to flour in a bid to prevent birth defects.

Tuesday, 21st September 2021, 11:30 am
Folic Acid is set to be added to flour after decades of campaigning from Peterborough charity Shine

SHINE - the city based charity which provides specialist support for anyone living in England, Wales and Northern Ireland with spina bifida and / or hydrocephalus - has been campaigning for Folic Acid to be added to bread and flour for more than 30 years.

Yesterday the government announced it would be added to non-wholemeal flour in the UK as standard.

Shine said the decision is backed by long-standing research that shows increasing folic acid intake prior to conception reduces the chances of a Neural Tube Defect (NTD), such as spina bifida or anencephaly.

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It will bring the UK into line with over 80 countries around the world who already fortify food. The USA and Canada have fortified for 20 years and have seen a staggering reduction – in some areas by as much as 50% - in pregnancies affected by NTDs.

Shine’s CEO, Kate Steele, said: “Although we firmly believe that all types of flour should have been included in the mandate, Shine is delighted by the Government’s decision to support mandatory fortification of the most commonly consumed flour in the UK with folic acid – a move we’ve campaigned for over many years”.

“In its simplest terms, the step will reduce the numbers of families who face the devastating news that their baby has anencephaly, and will not survive. It will also prevent some babies being affected by spina bifida, which can result in complex physical impairments and poor health.

“It’s over 20 years since the first countries adopted this important public health measure, and started to benefit from a significant reduction in the incidence of pregnancies affected by neural tube defects. Now, at long last, people in the UK will share at least some of that advantage.”

The news has been welcomed by former Peterborough MP Stewart Jackson, who campaigned for the move to be made when he was elected.

He worked alongside Shine (formally known as ASBAH) in 2005, raising the issue in Parliament.

He said; “I worked with Shine (or ASBAH as it then was) on this my first campaign in Parliament in 2005.

“There was a lot of goodwill at the time but no action and so I’m delighted that it will finally happen and the tragedy of preventable disability which affects so many families can be avoided.”

Gill Yaz, Shine’s Health Development Lead, says: “This is such a positive step change in improving public health across the UK for so many, now and in the future. It really is something to celebrate!”

Gill added: “Shine will continue to advocate that all women who might become pregnant should take a daily supplement of folic acid, whether or not they are trying for a baby. Mandatory fortification of white flour, coupled with the recommended supplement of 400mcg of folic acid at least 8 weeks before becoming pregnant, will mean a lower likelihood of an unborn baby being affected by spina bifida or anencephaly.”

Announcing the decision, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “Few things are as important as a baby’s health – and folic acid-fortified flour is a quick, simple win to enhance their development.

“This will give extra peace of mind to parents and families, as well as helping boost the health of adults across the country.”

Health and Social Care Secretary, Sajid Javid said: “We are committed to giving more children a healthy start in life. With the safe and taste-free folic acid baked into the national diet, hundreds more babies will be born healthy each year.

“Focusing on preventing life-threatening health issues such as spina bifida, will ensure fewer people will require hospital treatment, and more individuals and families are able to live healthier lives.”

Since the Second World War, flour has been fortified with calcium, iron, niacin and thiamin during milling to support the nation’s health.

This public health decision is not anticipated to require major overhaul for industrial-scale flour producers. Folic acid will need to be added to the labelling of all foods made with flour – as is the case with other fortification.

Wholemeal flour and gluten free foods are not subject to mandatory fortification and these products are not in the initial scope of this policy. Wholemeal flour has more naturally occurring folate than non-wholemeal wheat flour, and some wholemeal and gluten free foods are already voluntarily fortified with folic acid in the UK.

Alex Waugh, Director of UK Flour Millers said: “Flour, whether white brown or wholemeal, is an ingredient in many foodstuffs and supplies a big proportion of our daily fibre and protein along with essential nutrients such as calcium, iron and B vitamins. If it is decided that folic acid should be added to flour for public health reasons, flour millers will do all they can to overcome any practical challenges to make it happen.”