The debate over putting folic acid in bread started today and it goes something like this. Do-gooders in The Food Standards Agency , and some renowned cooks such as Marguerite Patten, want to make sure the substance gets to pregnant women in order to prevent birth defects.
Other equally renowned scientist and chefs, including Egon Ronay, don’t see why the general population should receive substances which are not essentially part of the food.
The evidence for the first argument comes in this full board report from the agency.
The agency says Folic acid can reduce incidents of neural tube defects such as spina bifida which currently affect up to 900 pregnancies per year in the UK.
And only a quarter of women follow Department of Health advice and take Folic acid – a synthetic form of the B vitamin folate – before and after conception, the most recent figures show.
But on the other side, those opposing the move point out that not everyone will benefit from doses of Folic acid and there may be some adverse effects for some.
Hilary Powers, professor of nutritional biochemistry at the University of Sheffield, told the BBC’s Today programme this morning that there could be a cancer risk.
She said: “I’m also concerned there are unknown risks is a risk in increasing circulating levels of folic acid in the blood.
“One possible scenario is an increase in cells’ capacity for division which could have implications for cancer risk.”
And in another recent radio programme, Egon Ronay claimed that only standard white loaves would be added to.
If this turns out to be the case, it would presumably leave mothers-to-be who eat wholemeal bread in the same position as they are now i.e. able to take responsibility for their own pregnancy.
The FSA has presented four options and started the 12 week consultation stage today. they are;
• Continue with the current situation where women trying to get pregnant and those in the early stages should take 400 micrograms a day
• Increase efforts to encourage young women to boost their folic acid intake
• Encourage the food industry to fortify more foods with folic acid
• Back mandatory fortification of bread or flour
So, whichever side of the debate you come down on, it’s time to make your voice heard.