A nationwide flour fight has developed in the United Kingdom. The move to fortify the country’s flour with folic acid was approved last June but hit a mountain of roadblocks in late October when researchers connected the folate with colon cancer, citing an increase in cases following the U.S.’s own fortification. Now British doctors are calling for the delay to end, averring that the detrimental claims were largely unfounded. Yet, resistance remains strong. Studies are being tossed about, used simultaneously by both sides to strengthen their cases, and the flour sits unchanged on the shelves.
Across the ocean, we observe the country’s bandying smugly. Our own (Canadian and U.S.) flour has been fortified for years. The Brits are behind, the poor chaps. But before we get too comfortable on our high horse, we should take a moment to look at our own folic acid dilemmas.
Since 1998, the FDA has mandated folic-acid fortification in nearly all flours. While neural tube defects have decreased by 20 percent, blood folate levels continue to decline, partially because of obesity and partially because women still aren’t getting enough folic acid. The fortification offers women only an additional 100 micrograms of folic acid a day, well below the recommended amount. Organizations such as the American Medical Association and March of Dimes regularly call on the FDA to double the amount, but the administration refuses to budge. Why?
It’s afraid – afraid that the increased fortification would cause health problems in the population at large, masking vitamin B12 deficiencies and possibly leading to irreversible brain damage in older individuals. It’s worried, just as its English counterparts are, that cancer cases could multiply. It’s terrified that a leap of faith in the name of health could become a misstep, tumbling that very health into an abyss. It’s waffling, and maybe it’s time that it stopped.
Concerns preceded the fortification of salt, milk and flour (with iron this time). Nail-biting meetings paved the way for the ban on trans fats and the mandating of vaccinations. A reason for hesitation will always exist in any large-scale health movement, but we can’t let that stop us. A 20 percent decrease in birth defects is good; twenty five would be better. Fifty would be amazing. If it’s likely that the increase of folic acid will bring more good than anything else, we should do it. We should act. And then, we can climb back up on our high horse and watch the United Kingdom duke it out over a question we already know the answer to.
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