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Time To Add Folic Acid To Bread?


Politicians in Scotland are debating whether to add fortify white bread with folic acid. The reason this is being considered is due to a rise in birth defects. With a good diet, rich with green leafy vegetables people should be able to obtain sufficient quantities of the B-vitamin. Good sources include: broccoli, brussels sprouts, liver, spinach, asparagus, peas, chickpeas, fortified breakfast cereals (source: U.K. NHS).

However, a risk of insufficient intake arises when a woman is pregnant. Because of this it is recommended by health professionals that a supplement is taken. It seems that the supplement is not being taken by sufficient numbers of women. In order to protect the population further, the Scottish government is considering adding folic acid to white bread as an additional substance (flour is already fortified with a range of other vitamins like calcium, thiamine, iron and niacin).

Such a move would not be out of kilter with the U.S., or 75 other countries, where the practice of adding folic acid to white bread has been established (as well as being a legal requirement) for several years.

Those who support such a measure argue that insufficient quantities of folic acid consumed by an expectant mother are associated with neural tube defects. This leads to abnormalities of the central nervous system in embryos. The outcome is that a baby can suffer with malformations of the spine, skull, and brain. The most common neural tube defects include spina bifida and anencephaly.

Those against adding folic acid to bread tend to do so for “liberal reasons”, arguing that it takes away the right to choose (one blogger calls it “untargeted mass medication.”) This argument is regarded as a little flimsy by some, given the numbers of foods to which contain additives. The only way to avoid additives would be an organic, whole food diet. Moreover, there are no known reports of folic acid causing any health risks.

Another argument against is cost, in terms of adding a chemical and re-labelling products. The argument that is preventing the U.K. government from passing any changes (as opposed to the devolved Scottish assembly) is whether there really is any need, and if the health data suggests the addition of folic acid will address the numbers of related birth defects.

The matter is set to be debated by the Scottish parliament.

About the author

Tim Sandle

Dr. Tim Sandle is a chartered biologist and holds a first class honours degree in Applied Biology; a Masters degree in education; and has a doctorate from Keele University.

  • Victor Grayson

    I think there is a case to be made.