Experts urge PH to pass folic acid food fortification law

Mara Cepeda
Experts urge PH to pass folic acid food fortification law
Fortifying wheat flour with folic acid can potentially reduce birth defect incidence in the country

MANILA, Philippines – Speakers in a recent roundtable discussion stressed that birth defects could be avoided if the country will have mandatory legislation on fortifying food with folic acid.

“Eighty-one countries currently have mandatory legislation for the fortification of wheat flour,” Food Fortification Initiative executive officer for Asia Dr Karen Codling said during the Roundtable Discussion on Folic Acid organized by the Department of Science and Technology-National Academy of Science and Technology (DOST-NAST) on Tuesday, June 23.

“All but 5 of these require fortification with folic acid. The Philippines is one of the 5 countries with mandatory fortification of wheat flour that does not include folic acid,” Codling added.

Folic acid, a B vitamin, is mostly found in green leafy vegetables, legumes, grains, and orange. (READ: Orange you glad fruits now come in bouquets?)

The vitamin helps in preventing a type of anemia, birth defects like cleft lip and palate, and neural tube defects (NTDs) of the brain, spine, and spinal cord.

NTD onset usually occurs on the first month of pregnancy when most women are still unaware that they are with child. (READ: Sex, pregnancy poorly understood by women: US study)

Common forms of NTDs include spina bifida, or when the fetal spinal column does not close completely, and anencephaly, when the brain and skull do not develop.

According to NAST academician and University of the Philippines Manila chancellor Carmencita Padilla, a law seeking to establish a comprehensive policy to ensure adequate folic acid intake through food fortification and supplementation is being proposed by the National Institutes of Health’s Institute of Human Genetics.

Padilla said the bill will hopefully be submitted to Congress by August 2015.

“We want to ensure that there is adequate supply of folic acid-fortified food and food products and folic acid tablets at an affordable price,” she said.

A daily folic acid supplement of 400 mcg can protect the fetus and maintain maternal stores. (READ: ABCs of pregnancy and nutrition)

Mandatory flour fortification

A press statement on the discussion said that wheat and maize flour fortification have been recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) as effective interventions against NTDs. (READ: Lifesaving 6: Saving mothers and children from malnutrition)

In particular, Codling said that wheat flour fortification has been found to prevent 75% of folic acid-preventable NTDs at current consumption levels.

During the forum, National Nutrition Council Nutrition Policy and Planning chief Ma. Lourdes Vega said that the local flour industry is open to mandatory folic acid fortification, a move recommended during a review of mandatory food fortification in 2012.

“We will request [the] academe to resolve concerns on negative effects of mandatory folic acid fortification,” added Vega.

However, Codling gave assurances that there is no clear evidence showing that folic acid causes cancer, asthma, or cognitive impairment. – Rappler.com

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.