The Irish authorities have announced a public consultation on the possible fortification of food with folic acid, the Evening Echo newspaper reported.

The food would be fortified to reduce the prevalence of neural tube defects such as spina bifida in Ireland. The Food Safety Authority of Ireland and the Department of Health and Children - working together through the National Committee on Food Fortification with Folic Acid - will oversee this initiative, the paper said.

Anyone with an interest is urged to make their views known before June 24, 2005.

Ireland currently has one of the highest incidences of neural tube defects in Europe. It is established that taking folic acid, a B vitamin, four weeks before conception and for 12 weeks after conception, can help reduce the risk of neural tube defects.

"This is a nationally important consultation. I would urge people to review the consultation document, access the dedicated folic acid website, and make their views known on the fortification of food with folic acid," said minister for health and children Mary Harney.

"The outcome of the consultation will be dictated by the views of Irish people and will lead to a policy decision that should reduce the number of births affected by neural tube defects in Ireland in the long-term," she said.