UK Food Standards Agency board Discusses Folate and Health

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) Board today agreed to consult on options for improving the folate status of young women. Fortification of foods with folic acid could reduce the number of babies born with neurological diseases such as spina bifida.

The Agency Board first discussed this issue in 2002, at which time issues were raised about the possible risks of fortification to the health of old people. Since then, the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN), the committee of independent scientific experts who advise government, have reviewed the evidence in relation to both benefits and risks of fortification. Other issues raised at the time and still pertinent to the Board’s deliberations today, include the appropriateness of a mandatory approach.

The FSA Board has considered the SACN review and has agreed to consult on four possible options:

Option 1 – maintain the status quo and do nothing at this stage

Option 2 – increase the effort to encourage young women to take supplements and changes to the diet to increase the consumption of folate rich foods

Option 3 – further encourage voluntary fortification of foods

Option 4 – implement mandatory fortification of the most appropriate food vehicle
Gill Fine, Director of Consumer Choice and Dietary Health, Food Standards Agency said:

'The FSA stated in 2003 that it would ask SACN to review folate fortification and track emerging science and evidence because it is an important issue which could have major health benefits. The Agency is committed to policy making that will benefit people’s health, but it will do this on the basis of weighing up all the available evidence and listening carefully to all views first.'

A 12-week consultation seeking the views of all consumers, stakeholders and industry will begin in May 2006. It was also agreed that additional information and evidence was still needed including consumer research to explore and understand further consumer opinion, as well as trade and economic issues including a cost benefit analysis, and continued monitoring of the impact of fortification activity in other countries. Parallel to this process, the Department of Health is considering the advice by SACN on assessing incidence and prevalence, and management strategies for vitamin B12 deficiency in older people.

The FSA Board will make its recommendation at the September 2006 open board meeting. Views will be sought on all four options. The decision will be subject to the views expressed in consultation and the further evidence and information to be collected as outlined above. The Board's recommendation will then be made to Health Ministers in Autumn 2006.

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