UK food experts have agreed that folic acid should be added to bread or flour in an attempt to cut birth defects.

The board of the Food Standards Agency voted unanimously to support mandatory fortification.

However, the FSA's board said more research is needed into whether folic acid should be just added to bread or whether to include flour in its recommendations. If the addition of folic acid to flour was put forward, it would mean products including cakes and biscuits would also come under scrutiny.

The FSA said its recommendations could help prevent pregnancies affected by illnesses like spina bifida. The FSA said that here are 700-900 such pregnancies in the UK each year.

Countries including the US, Chile and Canada have already fortified flour with folic acid. The FSA said that since the US introduced the measure a decade ago, there has been a drop of more than a quarter in related birth defects.

FSA Chair Deirdre Hutton said: "This move, as part of a package of measures, will help prevent birth defects in pregnancy and have wider health benefits for the rest of the population. The board was also reassured by the significant science that the benefits outweigh potential risks."