Alex Sobel, MP for Leeds North West, has spoken in favour of mandatory folic acid fortification of in an emotive exchange in Parliament this week.
Low levels of folic acid during pregnancy are largely responsible for severe birth defects in the brain, the spine and the spinal cord, most commonly spina bifida, a devastating
condition that can lead to major difficulties for parent and child.
Calling for the government to follow the footsteps of 81 other countries around the world, including the US and Canada, he described the proposed fortification of flour as a “no
In his impassioned speech the MP hit home that voluntary supplementation is simply not enough.
There is evidence of neural spine defects affecting 2 children in the UK per week. There is also a high proportion of UK pregnancies that are unplanned where voluntary folic acid tablets would not be considered.
Mr Sobel criticised the current government guidelines that recommend voluntary folic acid tablets for those planning to conceive and those in their first trimester of pregnancy.
As a parent who understands the added expense of pregnancy, he asked why the government expects families to pay for the recommended supplements; 1 jar alone
costing an astounding £8.49. !
The MP pointed to the startling statistic that adding folic acid to food reportedly “reduces instances of neutral tube defects by 72%”. But this wasn't his only reasoning.
Highlighting some of the existing fortifications in the British food industry, such as the addition of iron in both white and brown flour, Mr Sobel noted that “food fortification is nothing new.”
To summarise Mr Sobel said:
“We add other substances to food for flavour, for texture or to increase the speed of
production, so why would we not add a harmless ingredient…that could save hundreds
of babies a year from being born in the UK with lifelong birth defects?”
The government is set to launch a public consultation in early 2019 on the proposal to
add folic acid to flour and Mr Sobel and other MPs hope that this will provide the green
light for the positively beneficial reform.