03 May 2018
Scientists, clinicians, parents and campaigners met in Parliament today to make the case for the mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid.
DUP Deputy Leader, Leader of the DUP Parliamentary Party, Spokesman on Reform and Constitutional issues and Foreign Affairs
Folic Acid is recommended by NICE as a supplement to be taken by women prior to and during pregnancy, as clinical evidence clearly shows Folic Acid helps prevent the incidence of life threatening and seriously debilitating conditions such as a Spina bifida or anencephaly. 87 countries across the world, including the USA, have acted on this evidence to introduce folic acid into all flour and related products, in order to maximise the prophylactic effect in their populations.
The UK Government has resisted calls for a similar public health intervention here. However, in light of growing evidence of the overwhelmingly positive effects of fortification in other countries, a British campaign is now gathering pace.
The meeting in Parliament was convened by Labour’s Owen Smith MP and Nigel Dodds MP Deputy Leader of the DUP, whose own child Andrew, was born with spina bifida and hydrocephaly. Mr Dodds recounted the experience of his own family and made a powerful plea for the introduction of mandatory fortification.
The meeting was also addressed by leading UK Scientists and experts on the benefits of fortification, including Professor Sir Colin Blakemore and Professor Sir Nicholas Wald. They informed MPs that folic acid is proven to be safe and effective and that fortification would mean that up to 75% of neural tube defects, such as spina bifida, might be prevented. Around 130 children are born each year in Britain with such defects, many more pregnancies are terminated as a result of detecting defects in the womb.
Whilst current guidelines recommend that women take a 400mcg dose of Folic Acid every day before trying for a baby, recent statistics show that advice to take supplements is failing to significantly reduce the number of pregnancies affected. Awareness of when to take supplements, and actual uptake, are low.
During the meeting, MPs agreed to form an All Party Parliamentary Group on Folic Acid with a view to raising a debate in Parliament to demand action from the government on mandatory fortification.
Speaking after the meeting, Owen Smith MP said:
“The case for fortification is absolutely compelling. It would save lives and money and the only real question is why, almost thirty years after the evidence in support of folic acid first emerged, has our country not followed the example of America, Australia, New Zealand and 80-odd other countries and introduced legislation to make sure pregnant women and those trying to conceive get enough folic acid in their diet.”
Commenting, Nigel Dodds MP said:
“I was delighted to co-host this important event with Owen, bringing together charities, campaigners and medical experts. This issue is too important to be ignored any longer, a simple change in the law can save lives. The commitment from those in the room today has made us even more determined. I look forward to a cross party debate in the House, to seek Government action. “
Kate Steele, Chief Executive of Shine, the Charity which provides specialist support for families and individuals living with spina bifida and/or hydrocephalus said:
“The evidence of the benefits for women of child-bearing age and new born babies, as well as for the wider UK population, is overwhelming. It’s time for this government to act.”