Fortifying flour with folic acid to reduce birth defects

January 10, 2019

Flour in the UK is to be fortified with folic acid in a move to help prevent neural tube defects such as:

  • Spina bifida – where the membranes around the spine do not close properly and in some cases affect walking or mobility
  • Anencephaly – where the majority of the brain never develops Every day in the UK, an average of two women terminate a pregnancy because of a neural tube defect, while every week two women give birth to a baby affected by one. There are approximately 700 to 900 pregnancies that are affected by neural tube defects each year in the UK.

Evidence from the Scientific Advisory Committee of Nutrition suggests that expectant mothers can take folic acid during pregnancy to significantly reduce the risk of these foetal abnormalities. Therefore, women in the UK who are considering becoming pregnant are advised to start taking a daily folic acid supplement of 400 micrograms at least until the 12th week of pregnancy. However, many women do not do so, particularly younger and ethnic minority women and women that have unplanned pregnancies. Approximately half of all pregnancies in the UK are unplanned, therefore many women are missing out on these nutrients early in their pregnancy.

Britain is believed to have the highest rate of neural tube defects in Europe. Most flour in the US and Canada has been fortified since the 1990s. When fortification first began in Canada, neural tube defects halved without any evidence of harm to the general population.

All women should be able to access the nutrients they need for a healthy pregnancy and in turn, reduce the risk of devastating complications, therefore medics in the UK have long called for the move of folic acid fortification.

For more information about planning a pregnancy:


For more information about preconception:



  1. Department of Health and Social Care. ‘Fortifying flour with folic acid: government to consult’. GOV.UK. Accessed 7th January 2019.
  2. The British Medical Journal. Flour to be fortified with folic acid. BMJ. Accessed 7th January 2019.