The UK's Food Standards Agency (FSA) has launched a consultation setting out options for improving the intake the vitamin folate among young women in order to reduce the number of neural tube defect (NTD) affected pregnancies in the UK.

The move follows publication today (12 Dec) of the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition's (SACN) final report on Folate and Disease Prevention, in which the committee recommends the implementation of mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid in the UK.

While SACN experts support the link with reduced birth defects, such as spina bifida, there is concern in some quarters that adding the vitamin to flour could harm some elderly patients, as it could mask a deficiency in the B12 vitamin.

The consultation process initiated by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) will attempt to ascertain how much public support there would be for mandatory fortification. The FSA consultation will offer four options: continue with the current situation where women trying to get pregnant and those in the early stages of pregnancy should take 400 micrograms of folic acid a day; increase efforts to encourage young women to boost their folic acid intake; encourage the food industry to fortify more foods with folic acid; or back mandatory fortification of bread or flour.

"This consultation is an opportunity for consumers, industry, health charities and other stakeholders to express their views and opinions on this issue," said FSA head of nutrition Rosemary Hignett.