MINISTERS are pressing ahead with plans to include folic acid in flour in Scotland, claiming that the dramatic move will decrease birth defects.
Authorities outside the UK have legislated for food producers to include folic acid in flour in a bid to cut down on birth defects such as Spina Bifida.
The UK government has yet to enforce the practice south of the border, with some claiming it is an invasion of the “nanny state”.
But now the Scottish Government are going it alone – moving forward with their plans to implement the “fortification” of flour with the vitamin north of the border.
Ministers have opened bidding on a contract to undertake research “to estimate the potential impact of fortification of flour with folic acid”.
The contract – published by quango Food Standards Scotland (FSS) – reads: “Scottish Ministers wish to progress with fortification of flour with folic acid in Scotland, although at this stage there is no indication that other UK countries plan to proceed.
“The current implementation mechanism under consideration for Scotland, is for mandatory fortification of bread or wheat flour manufactured anywhere in the UK and used in products placed on the market (sold or distributed for sale) in Scotland.”
The contract is to model the health outcomes which the move would have on the population.
According to the small print, the information “will be used to inform the implementation plan.”
The Scottish Government said in January thatthey were considering the move.
At the time public health minister Maureen Watt said: “We are disappointed that, despite repeated lobbying from a number of sources, there has been no progress at UK level on mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid.”
Research shows that a lack of folic acid during pregnancy increases the chance of children being born with life-changing disabilities such as Spina Bifida.
Testing shows that “fortifying” flour with the supplement can reduce the number of such defects by 21%.
Folic acid is naturally produced in vegetables such as lentils, broccoli and spinach as well as citrus fruits.
But present research shows that 85% of mothers currently do not take enough folic acid during their pregnancy.
Spina Bifida Hydrocephalus Scotland (SBHS) chief executive, Andrew Wynd, said: “We have long advocated for folic acid fortification in flour and we’re encouraged that Food Standards Scotland (FSS) are now researching the impact of fortification so that Scottish Government can develop an implementation plan.
“We were disheartened earlier this year when plans for implementation in England were firmly halted but folic acid fortification remains particularly relevant in Scotland as more children are born with spina bifida in Scotland than anywhere else in the UK.
“We look forward to reading Food Standards Scotland’s findings.”
In January the Green party questioned the policy, with convenor Patrick Harvie saying: “Folates are present in lots of green leafy vegetables, which are produced in Scotland very well.
“We think diet should be the starting point, making sure have got access to good fresh vegetables.”
A spokesman for FSS confirmed they had “invited tenders to estimate the potential impact of fortification of bread or flour with folic acid using up to date dietary information”.
The spokesman added: “The results of this project will contribute to FSS evidence based advice to Scottish Ministers on folic acid fortification.”