Folic acid will be added to flour to prevent birth defects

Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily  Front Page newsletter and new  audio briefings. Folic acid will be added to all flour to stop thousands of children being born with birth defects, such as spina bifida, it was reported last night.The government is expected to announce a u-turn within weeks after resisting the move for 26 years.In 1991 the largest trial of its type at the time established a link between the diseases, known collectively as neural tube defects (NTD), and low levels of folic acid in mothers during the early part of pregnancy.Eighty-one countries, including the US, subsequently introduced the mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid because only approximately one third of women follow advice to supplement their diet.Britain did not follow suit, partly on the basis of a study by the American Institute of Medicine which indicated a risk of neurological damage if folic acid levels become too high.However following pressure from scientists, and ongoing recommendations from the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN), Downing Street is to make fortification mandatory, according to The Guardian. The Royal Society of Medicine also said that the decision was ‘long overdue’ while charities said it was ‘gamechanging.’Every day in the UK, on average two women have a termination of pregnancy because of a neural tube defect and every week two women give birth to an affected child. In Chile, which has the highest levels of fortification, the measure is believed to prevent up to 80 per cent of potential NTD cases.The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said it “would welcome the introduction of mandatory fortification across the UK with the appropriate safeguards, such as controls on voluntary fortification by the food industry and improved guidance on supplement use”.“A government decision to introduce mandatory fortification will mean a major positive impact for the health and well-being of babies born in the future,” said Kate Steele, Chief Executive of charity Shine, which helps families of children with neural tube defects.“In many cases, it will be the difference between life and death.”A Department of Health and Social care spokesperson said: “Ministers are considering expert advice and will respond in due course.”