The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition in the UK has said that many babies could be spared the trauma of being born with birth defects if folic acid were to be incorporated in flour. Folic acid plays a vital role in reducing commonly found neural tube defects like the spina bifida. The Committee also maintained that medical termination of pregnancy could be avoided if this simple precaution were to be taken. It is estimated that about 600 pregnancies end up in carrying infants with birth defects.
This toll could be reduced by 41 percent if there is a measure to add adequate folic acid to the diet of a mother. This practice is already in vogue in America, Canada and Chile. The decision to adopt the same standard in Britain lies with the Food Standards Agency (FSA). Last time the agency had narrowly rejected this measure, but it is looking like being passed this time. Women need to start taking folic acid supplements before pregnancy. Some foods like breakfast cereals already contain these nutrients in adequate amounts, but the best way according to the Committee would be to include it in flour, which is used on a daily basis. Sheila Bingham, the deputy director of the Dunn Nutrition Unit in Cambridge was the chairperson of the sub-committee which put in this recommendation. Professor Bingham acknowledged that the neural tube defects had come down since the 1990s, but had shown no further decline since then. Hence it was essential to take this step.
Andrew Russell, the executive director of the Association for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus welcomed this recommendation, 'This report gives a wonderful opportunity to introduce a measure to benefit all women of child-bearing age and their families. The public should be asking why we have not done this already,' he commented.