The Food Standards Agency has launched a consultation setting out different options for increasing young women’s intake of folate, a B vitamin, to reduce the number of pregnancies in the UK affected by neural tube defects such as spina bifida.
At the same time, the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) has published its final report on Folate and Disease Prevention, in which it recommends the implementation of mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid (the synthetic form of folate) in the UK.
In the Agency's 13-week consultation, four options are outlined for people to consider and respond on:
Option 1 – to continue with the current policy of advising all women who are planning to get pregnant to take a 400 microgram (mcg) folic acid supplement each day, from when they stop using contraception until the 12th week of pregnancy
Option 2 – to increase the effort to encourage young women to take folic acid supplements and to increase their consumption of folate-rich foods
Option 3 – to encourage the food industry to fortify more foods with folic acid on a voluntary basis
Option 4 – to recommend the mandatory fortification of bread or flour with folic acid
The FSA Board will consider SACN's report on Folate and Disease Prevention and the consultation feedback before providing advice to Health Ministers after the FSA's Board meeting in May 2007.
Rosemary Hignett, Head of Nutrition at the Food Standards Agency, said: ‘Taking action to improve the folate status of young women, in order to help prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida occurring during pregnancy, is a particularly complex one. Over the past few years, this issue has raised many interesting and important issues. The Food Standards Agency is committed to policy-making that will benefit people’s health and we do this on the basis of weighing up the evidence in relation to risks and benefits.
‘This consultation is an opportunity for consumers, industry, health charities and other stakeholders to express their views and opinions on this issue.’