Folic Acid To Be Added To Flour

Folic acid to be added to flour to help prevent life-threatening spinal conditions in babies, Health Minister Robin Swann has announced.

The Northern Ireland Executive in line with the rest of the UK, has agreed that folic acid should be added to non-wholemeal wheat flour. This will mean that foods made with flour, such as bread, will actively help avoid potentially life-threatening spinal conditions in babies every year.

Announcing the public health measure, Health Minister Robin Swann said: "The importance of folic acid at pre-conception and during pregnancy is well-evidenced. In Northern Ireland we have a higher incidence of birth defects due to folic acid deficiency, which disproportionately impacts on those living in areas of higher social deprivation. Today's announcement has the potential to bring significant public health benefits.

"The fortification of flour with folic acid is already an established measure in 80 countries globally. Including in Australia, New Zealand and Canada where there has been a reduction in neural tube defects as a result."
News Image
Non-wholemeal flour is already an established vehicle for fortification and the costs of fortification to industry are expected to be minimal. Flour is currently fortified with calcium, iron, niacin and thiamin during milling to support health.

Chief Medical Officer Professor Sir Michael McBride said: "Fortifying flour with folic acid allows all women who could become pregnant to increase their intake of the important nutrient and reduce their risk of having a pregnancy affected by a Neural Tube Defect. In the first 12 weeks of pregnancy the neural tube forms the early part of the brain and spine. Not getting enough folate (Vitamin B9) in early pregnancy can lead to neural tube defects and result in spinal conditions such as spina bifida or anencephaly."

It is recommended that women who could become pregnant or are planning a pregnancy take a 400 micrograms folic acid tablet every day before pregnancy and until they are 12 weeks pregnant. This advice will continue, but with around 50% of pregnancies in the UK unplanned, the action to increase folic acid intake across the population will help protect more babies, especially where a pregnancy is unplanned and supplements are not taken early enough.

Photo by Vlad Kutepov on Unsplash

Related Northern Ireland News Stories
Click here for the latest headlines.

18 October 2021
Swann Praises Ongoing Vaccine Uptake
Northern Ireland's Health Minister Robin Swann has hailed the importance of localised initiatives to further improve the ongoing Covid-19 vaccination uptake. A push to offer vaccinations in rural areas has led to more than 1,600 jabs being administered.
05 July 2021
£10m Mental Health Support Fund Officially Opens
A new £10 million fund to assist mental health support organisations has been officially opened by Health Minister Robin Swann.
06 March 2020
PSNI Chief Gives Current Position On Covid-19
Police have outlined their current strategy to manage the Covid-19 outbreak. Chief Superintendent Sam Donaldson issued a statement following calls for officers to have the same powers as those in England and Wales, including the ability to detain people suspected of having contracted the virus who are unwilling to self-quarantine.
04 March 2020
Two More Coronavirus Cases In NI
Two further cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in Northern Ireland. The 'presumptive positive' results are to be confirmed by Public Health England. The two additional cases would bring totals in Northern Ireland to three. Reports suggest they are not connected.
02 March 2020
Coronavirus Latest: Ministers Hold Cross-Border Talks
Cross-border cooperation regarding measures to limit the spread of coronavirus are ongoing, the Health Minister has said. A total of two cases have been confirmed on the island of Ireland, one on each side of the border.