bpas comment on government plan to introduce mandatory fortification of folic acid to prevent birth defects
It has been announced that the government will introduce the mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid to prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida. Ministers have rejected calls for folic acid fortification for decades, despite overwhelming support from medical bodies and women's healthcare charities, including the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, bpas.
Folic acid can prevent neural tube defects (NTDs) such as spina bifida, but only if it is taken in the very early stages of pregnancy - ideally before conception. However, almost half of pregnancies in this country are not planned, which means that even with the best of intentions, many women will start taking folic acid too late in pregnancy to protect they baby. Mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid will ensure that it will enter foods widely consumed by women of childbearing age, so women will already be consuming the vitamin prior to becoming pregnant.
Clare Murphy, Director of External Affairs at bpas, commented:
"We welcome the news that the government are set to approve the mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid.
"The UK has one of the highest rates of neural tube defects in Europe. Around 1,000 pregnancies are affected every year, and the vast majority will end in the painful decision to terminate what is often a very much wanted pregnancy. Most fetal anomalies sadly are not preventable, but those related to folic acid deficiency can be reduced.
"We know there are many reasons why women don’t take folic acid in the weeks surrounding conception – not least because many pregnancies are not planned. Even if women start taking folic acid after they miss their period and become aware of their pregnancy, it may be too late for it to be effective.
"Folic acid fortification is a straightforward public health intervention which will spare hundreds of women the heartbreak of receiving the news that their baby has a serious condition. After years of delay, we urge the government to bring forward folic acid fortification as soon as possible in order to get the best possible pregnancy outcomes for as many women as possible."
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bpas is a charity which sees more than 70,000 women a year and provides reproductive healthcare services including pregnancy counselling, abortion care, miscarriage management and contraception, at clinics across the UK. It supports and advocates for reproductive choice. More information can be found at bpas.org.