MOTHER'S PRIDE; Call for folic acid in bread to aid births.
FOLIC acid should be routinely added to bread or flour to help cut birth defects, food experts said yesterday.
The Food Standards Agency board unanimously agreed the measure is the best way of reducing defects such as spina bifida - though a final decision will rest with the Government.
The FSA rejected it five years ago due to lack of evidence on the risks and benefits but chair Dame Deirdre Hutton said: "I don't believe it's the ultimate solution, I believe it's the best pragmatic solution we can get."
About 700 and 900 pregnancies a year in the UK are affected by neural tube defects (NTDs).
The FSA already advises women trying for a baby to eat extra folic acid but this is failing because half of all pregnancies are unplanned.
Dr Patricia Hamilton of the Royal College of Paediatrics said: "It will significantly reduce the number of babies with serious abnormalities of the brain or spine."
Mandatory fortification already happens in the US, Canada and Chile, where it has cut NTD rates by between 27 and 50 per cent.
But critics say it is "mass medication" and called for a "clear opt-out" for shoppers. There are also fears it could raise cancer risk.
Dr Frankie Philips of the Dietetic Association, said: We need to be aware there are risks."
THE ACID TEST
What is folic acid?
A synthetic form of the vitamin B folate in foods such as broccoli. Vital to help make red blood cells.
How does it cut birth defects?
It helps the spine, brain and skull of the foetus to develop fully in the early stages of pregnancy.
Are there any objections?
Cancer risk unknown; lack of choice; could mask B12 vitamin deficiency in elderly, causing damage to nervous system.
BOOST: Folic could go in bread and flour