In Health Questions yesterday I pressed the government for an update on proposals to add folic acid to flour products as a means of reducing the number of children born with defects of the spine.
Folic Acid is recommended by NICE as a supplement to be taken by women prior to and during pregnancy, as clinical evidence shows it helps to prevent the incidence of life-threatening and seriously debilitating Neural Tube Defects, including Spina Bifida. Over 80 countries across the world, including the USA and Canada, have acted on this evidence to introduce folic acid into all flour and related products. The UK Department of Health have still not responded to a Government consultation on the fortification of flour with folic acid which closed in September 2019.
Speaking in Health Questions, I said “With Spina Bifida Awareness Week coming up, can the Secretary of State say when the Government will respond to the consultation on putting folic acid into flour? It is a move that could help to reduce the number of babies born with defects of the spine, and it is important to hear when that might happen.”
In response, Health Secretary Matt Hancock MP said “I am a strong supporter of the work we have done to look at that approach. The hon. Lady is right to raise it, and I will write to her with a timetable for that response.”
Evidence suggests that if the UK had fortified flour products with folic acid in the 1990s, as many as 3,000 lives of children born with preventable neural tube defects might have been saved. The fortification of flour with folic acid – which the UK Government’s consultation recommended last year – would be a transformative public health measure. It’s something that the Welsh Government, the British Medical Association and charities like Shine have been calling for.
On behalf of constituents whose lives have been affected by spinal defects, I really hope we’ll see some progress on this soon. I look forward to hearing more from the Health Secretary as soon as possible.