In an attempt to reduce the number of children born with birth defects such as spina bifida, the Irish Government intends to introduce legislation requiring the fortification of bread with folic acid.

The Irish Food Standards Authority recommended the move yesterday (18 July), stating: "The aim of its recommendation is to reduce the number of babies born with neural tube defects (NTDs) in Ireland every year. Folic acid is a B vitamin, which, if taken for at least eight weeks prior to, and 12 weeks, after conception, is known to reduce by up to 70% the risk of NTDs, a group of severe birth defects such as spina bifida that can develop in babies during the first weeks of pregnancy."

White, brown and wholemeal beads in Ireland will be fortified, but some "minor" bread products and retail flour will not be fortified to allow for consumer choice, the authority said.

The Minister for Health and Children, Mary Harney, expressed her support for the recommendations and said that the next step will be to establish an implementation group to develop an implementation process for the mandatory fortification of bread.