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Fortification of flour with folic acid recommended

The Medical Research Council (MRC) has welcomed the Food Standards Agency's (FSA) decision to recommend the mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid.

The decision was informed by an international clinical trial  conducted by the MRC, published in 1991, which showed that giving pregnant women supplements of folic acid reduced the risk of major birth defects of the brain and spine. These neural tube defects such as spina bifida are relatively common and often fatal.

According to the FSA, countries including the USA, Chile and Canada have already fortified flour with folic acid. Since the USA  introduced the measure around 10 years ago, it has seen a drop of more than a quarter in such birth defects.

Professor Colin Blakemore, the chief executive of the MRC, said: "This is good news. There is clear evidence that folic acid prevents devastating birth defects and it is good to see this important British discovery moving into public health policy here. 

"Dietary supplementation rather than individual medication is the only secure route to that benefit, since the effects of folic acid operate very early in pregnancy, before most mothers are certain that they have conceived. The Food Standards Agency has done a  careful assessment of the benefits and any possible risks before making this recommendation."