Belfast Telegraph

MP Dodds hails consultation on folic acid in flour to help cut birth defects

Nigel Dodds with son Andrew in 1998
Nigel Dodds with son Andrew in 1998
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

A DUP MP has welcomed the start of a formal consultation on a proposal to add folic acid to flour.

It is a campaign close to the hearts of Nigel and Diane Dodds, as their son Andrew was born with spina bifida.

He died in 1998 just before his ninth birthday.

The couple have been long-term campaigners in favour of the proposal and the North Belfast MP co-chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Folic Acid Fortification in Westminster.

He said: "It is widely recognised that taking the B vitamin folic acid during pregnancy can help prevent certain brain and spine birth defects, known as neural tube defects.

"The most effective way of increasing intake across the population is through the fortification of flour with folic acid, which has been shown to have no side-effects.

"Since folic acid fortification was introduced in the United State of America in 1998, it is estimated that around 1,300 babies are born each year without an NTD who might otherwise have been affected.

"As co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group at Westminster, I warmly welcome that formal statutory consultation is now getting under way."

The 12-week consultation will be conducted on a UK-wide basis and will be available on the Gov.uk website.

It follows years of campaigning by charities including Shine, which represents people with spina bifida and wants to see folic acid added to flour in a bid to cut birth defects.

Pregnant women are currently advised to take a folic acid supplement before conceiving and for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy to cut the risk of their baby developing spina bifida or anencephaly, where the majority of the brain never develops.

But some women forget to take the supplement, do not heed the advice or do not discover they are pregnant until it is too late.

Around 1,000 pregnancies are affected by neural tube defects each year in the UK and more than 40% of cases are fatal.

Under the plans to fortify flour, experts predict that around 200 birth defects a year could be prevented.

"We all want to give our children the best start in life and a birth defect diagnosis is devastating for parents," Public Health Minister Seema Kennedy said.

"The simple measure of adding folic acid to flour would help spare hundreds of families from such a life-changing event. Women from the poorest areas are less likely to take folic acid supplements and it is right that we do all we can to protect the most vulnerable in society."

Shine chief executive Kate Steele said she was delighted the proposal had taken a major step forward.

"After more than 25 years of campaigning for this, we look forward to the day that mandatory fortification with folic acid finally becomes a reality," she said.

"Its introduction will change many lives for the better by reducing the incidence of anencephaly and spina bifida.

"This relatively simple step will give new babies and children, and their families, the chance of happier, healthier lives."

Folic acid fortification has been adopted in more than 60 countries including the US, Australia and Canada.

In Australia neural tube defects fell 14% following the mandatory fortification of bread with folic acid.

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