DUP backs push to add folic acid to flour - 'this is too important to be ignored'
A meeting convened jointly by the DUP's Nigel Dodds has been held at Parliament on Thursday to push for the mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid.
The group, made up of scientists, clinicians, parents, and campaigners, also has the backing of former shadow Northern Ireland secretary Owen Smith.
It is recommended folic acid is taken by women prior to and during pregnancy, and has been shown to prevent incidence of life-threatening and seriously debilitating conditions such as spina bifida, which impacts the development of the spine during pregnancy, or anencephaly, where a major portion of the brain, skull or scalp may not develop during pregnancy.
Around the world, 87 countries have changed legislation so folic acid has to be included in flour and other related products.
"This issue is too important to be ignored any longer, a simple change in the law can save lives," said Mr Dodds, whose own child Andrew was born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus.
"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," Mr Dodds added.
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."
A study published in 2015 found around 2,000 cases of serious birth defect could have been prevented over a 17-year period if flour had been fortified with folic acid.
In 1998, compulsory fortification of flour with folic acid was introduced in 77 countries.
At the time the UK opted instead to advise women to take supplements.
The NHS website states folic acid is "very important for the development of a health foetus" and recommends it is taken during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy while the child's spine is developing.
Belfast Telegraph Digital