Advice being sought for adding folic acid to flour in Scotland

Ms Maureen Watt, Public Health Minister
Ms Maureen Watt, Public Health Minister

The Scottish Government is seeking advice on how flour can be strengthened with folic acid.

Public Health Minister Maureen Watt has written to Food Standards Scotland for advice on how this can be carried out across the country.

The advice will be used to help ministers decide how to pursue the policy on a Scotland only basis. The Scottish Government’s preference is for a UK wide solution, but the UK Government has so far failed to commit to the measure despite repeated requests.

The Scottish Government believes mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid is the best way to reduce neural tube defects like spina bifida in unborn babies. Folate levels are low across the UK by international standards – particularly so in Scotland.

Ms Watt wrote again to UK Public Health Minister Jane Ellison on November 11 last year to ask the UK Government to consider mandatory fortification. However, she again failed to commit to the step.

Ms Watt said: “Our consistent position is that UK-wide mandatory fortification of flour is the best way to reduce neural tube defects.

“However, despite repeated requests it’s clear that the UK Government has no intention of doing so at this time.

“I have therefore asked Food Standards Scotland to provide some detailed advice on how we could do this on a Scotland-only basis. This advice will then be used to allow us to make a decision on what our next steps should be.”

She continued: “There are far too many babies being born with Spina Bifida in Scotland – particularly in our more deprived communities. Folic acid is tasteless, entirely safe within recommended intake levels and is already included in many foods like breakfast cereals.

“There are 78 countries around the world that already have mandatory fortification of flour. The USA has done it for the past eight years, with no adverse effects on health. By joining them we can help to save many families from the heartbreak of being told their baby has Spina Bifida.”

Ross Finnie, chairman of Food Standards Scotland, said: “As Scotland’s independent public food body, we will be happy to provide the Scottish Government with the advice that has been requested. Such advice will fit well with our statutory duty to improve the diet of the Scottish population.

“The advice we provide will enable the Scottish Government to determine the best way forward to reduce neural tube defects. In doing so, we will draw on the previous body of advice provided by the Food Standards Agency as well as taking account of any new evidence and advice from the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition.”