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BPAS comment on the government announcement re: the fortification of flour with folic acid

Today, the government has announced plans add folic acid to UK flour to help prevent neural tube defects.

The UK has one of the highest rates of neural tube defects like spina bifida and anencephaly in Europe, with around 1,000 pregnancies affected each year. Spina bifida causes lifelong disability, while anencephaly is a condition in which where the baby’s skull and brain do not form properly and the baby dies shortly after birth. The majority of women (80%) make the painful decision to end what is often a much wanted pregnancy after such a diagnosis.

It is recommended that women take folic acid supplements prior to conceiving in order to prevent neural tube defects. As 46% of pregnancies in the UK are unplanned, and many women are unaware of the need to take folic acid, most pregnant women even with the best of intentions will start taking folic acid too late in pregnancy to protect their baby from avoidable harm. Fortifying flour with folic acid would means that it would enter in to widely consumed foods, so women will already be consuming the vitamin prior to becoming pregnant.

Commenting on the decision, Clare Murphy, Chief Executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, BPAS, said:

“We welcome today’s announcement. The fortification of flour with folic acid is a straightforward public health intervention which could spare hundreds of women every year from the painful decision to end a wanted pregnancy after a diagnosis of a neural tube defect. Most fetal anomalies sadly are not preventable, but those related to folic acid deficiency can and must be reduced. 

It is now 15 years since the UK’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) first recommended flour be fortified with folic acid. This measure has already been introduced in more than 70 countries around the world, including the US, Canada and Australia, and there is clear evidence that fortification leads to a decrease in neural tube defects as a result.  In the UK, we have been has been adding calcium, thiamin, niacin and iron to wheat flour for more than 50 years so both the principles and the mechanics of fortification are already in place. After years of delay, we urge the government to bring forward this simple initiative as soon as possible in order to get the best pregnancy outcomes for as many women as possible."

 

ENDS

For more information please contact sam.leimanis@bpas.org or call 07570 707134.

About BPAS

BPAS is a charity that sees over 100,000 women a year for reproductive healthcare services including pregnancy counselling, abortion care, miscarriage management and contraception at clinics across Great Britain. It supports and advocates for reproductive choice. BPAS also runs the Centre for Reproductive Research and Communication, which seeks to develop and deliver a research agenda that furthers women’s access to evidence-based reproductive healthcare, driven by an understanding of women’s perspectives and needs. You can find out more here: https://www.bpas.org/get-involved/centre-for-reproductive-research-communication/

Later in 2021, BPAS will launch England's first not-for-profit fertility service, to provide ethical, evidence-based, person-centred care that supports patients. We will provide a safe, high-quality, and accessible service, without profiteering from patients. Our service will give those ineligible for NHS funding an affordable option to access the care they need.