Press Release

Micheál Martin announces establishment of National Committee on Folic Acid Food Fortification

The Minister for Health and Children, Micheál Martin T.D., today (29 September 2004) announced that he has now established a National Committee on Folic Acid Food Fortification.

The committee will be chaired by Ms. Maureen Lynott. It will review the possible fortification of foods with folic acid in view of the relatively high level of neural tube defects in Ireland and report to the Minister for Health and Children.

Representatives from bodies such as the Faculty of Public Health, the Food Safety Promotion Board, the Irish College of General Practitioners, Industry Representatives, Consumers Association, the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute, and the Irish Association for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus, will participate in the Committee.

It has been recognised for some time that folic acid, taken before conception and during early pregnancy, is associated with a significant reduction in the incidence of neural tube defects in infancy.  Many countries, including Ireland, recommend that women likely to become pregnant should take folic acid supplementation prior to conception and during the first three months of pregnancy.

Women of childbearing age are advised to take folic acid tablets of appropriate dosage and also to eat foods which are rich in folate (leafy vegetables, fruits and berries, beans, whole grain products and liver).

This has contributed to a reduction in neural tube defects, but Ireland’s neural tube defects rate is still amongst highest in Europe This has prompted debate on need for additional strategies to ensure more comprehensive reductions.

In June 2002 the Department asked the Food Safety Authority of Ireland for advice on the safety issues involved.  Following consideration by the FSAI Scientific Committee and Nutrition Sub-Committee, the FSAI reported to the Department in June 2003, policy advice which recommended the universal fortification of flour with folic acid at 200mg per 100g in food products.  This included a detailed risk/benefit analysis of mandatory fortification of flour where the affects of flour fortification with folic acid on intakes of different groups in the population was estimated.

The Department of Health and Children has considered this advice and the National Committee on Folic Acid Food Fortification will now address the broader aspects of implementing this policy including the technical issues regarding fortification, addressing risk if any, examining the other benefits that are linked to fortification such as reducing cardiovascular disease and stroke and they will report and make representations to the Minister for Health.