Tuesday 21 September 2021
Health and Social Care
Fortification of Flour: Folic Acid
I am today announcing the Government’s decision to introduce mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid to help prevent neural tube defects in foetuses. The Government initiated a consultation in 2019 on the issue of folic acid fortification. Our response is published today and confirms that we will proceed with fortification of non-wholemeal wheat flour, which is the most used type. This was the “baseline” option in the consultation and accompanying impact assessment.
Neural tube defects are birth defects of the brain, spine, or spinal cord. They happen in the first few weeks of pregnancy, often before a woman even knows that she is pregnant. The two most common neural tube defects are spina bifida and anencephaly. These can be devastating conditions, and the Government are fully aware of the effect these have on the individuals themselves and their families.
There is strong evidence that many neural tube defects can be prevented by increasing women’s intake of folic acid, which is why existing pregnancy advice to women who are trying to conceive or who are likely to become pregnant is to take a daily supplement of 400 micrograms of folic acid until the 12th week of pregnancy.
However, we know that in the UK around half of pregnancies are unplanned. In those which are planned, it has been estimated that only half of all mothers took folic acid supplements or modified their diet to increase folate intake. This has led to calls for mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid, so women can get it from dietary sources other than foods that naturally contain it, and is why we consulted on the proposal.
I am grateful to the many people who took time to respond to the consultation which helped us accurately consider this policy.
I have agreed with the Governments of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland that we intend to implement this change on a UK-wide basis. We will now commence detailed discussions with stakeholders on the precise details of the fortification and labelling requirements, and agree the appropriate lead-in times. In order to minimise impacts on industry, this will be co-ordinated as part of a wider review of The Bread and Flour Regulations 1998 and The Bread and Flour (Northern Ireland) Regulations 1998 being undertaken by DEFRA—alongside the Food Standards Agency in Northern Ireland and Wales, Food Standards Scotland in Scotland, DHSC, and the Scottish and Welsh Governments. Following those discussions, and in co-ordination with the progress of the review of the wider bread and flour regulations, we will consult on the draft legislation to implement this policy, and include a full impact assessment on the mandatory folic acid fortification.
Machinery of Government
I am making this statement to bring to the House’s attention the following machinery of government change.
Responsibility for the operation of the vaccine damage payments scheme will transfer from the Department for Work and Pensions to the Department of Health and Social Care. This change will take effect on 1 November 2021.