Launched in November with the support of industry group Health Food Manufacturers’ Association (HFMA), the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) is the first to focus specifically on micronutrients and the role of food supplements.
The group will meet four times a year to discuss different policy topics “of interest both to policy makers and industry” relating to the role of micronutrients in different life stages.
This month’s inaugural meeting, entitled ‘Nutrition before and during pregnancy: ensuring mother and child stay healthy’, covered the role of folic acid, vitamin D, vitamin B12, calcium and iodine.
An All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) is an informal cross-party group that has no official status within the UK Parliament but is run by and for members of the houses of commons and lords and may also involve outside individuals and organisations.
The groups are in effect a means of lobbying.
As of November last year there were 398 subject-based APPGs, covering issues like ‘agriculture and food for development’, ‘suicide and self-harm prevention’ and ‘women, peace and security’ as well as more fringe topics like ‘bingo’ and ‘angling’.
HFMA executive director Graham Keen expressed his “frustration” around ongoing talks on folic acid to prevent neural tube defects like spina bifida in infants.
The debate for fortification of flour with folic acid has been rumbling on since the 1990s.
According to the meeting’s minutes, the APPG’s chair, Labour party MP Rosie Cooper, offered to “write letters and ask parliamentary questions” on the topic.
She said the UK health service was now so fragmented there was an issue with who would “take responsibility”.
Martine Austin, programme manager for global prevention at the International Federation for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus, also attended the meeting.
In her presentation she said: “We need to focus on the most effective and achievable ‘solution’ to the issue. Folic acid may not provide the total answer, but maximising the potential 72% risk reduction is a great place to start!”
A UK bill for the fortification of bread and flour with folic acid is currently making its way through the houses of parliament, but a date has yet to be set for a second reading following its first reading in the House of Lords last June.
Yet Austin added: “Awaiting a decision on fortification is not an excuse not to act on public health awareness of the importance of folic acid supplementation for women of childbearing age when this would still remain policy regardless of the decision reached about fortification.”
Cooper told us after publication the publication of this article fortification alone would not be enough to address the problem of neural tube defects.
"Whatever the outcome of the fortification debate, additional folic acid supplementation is vital. Awareness of this is perhaps reflected in a recent PQ [parliamentary questions] response from Lord Prior of Brampton, who said that the Government currently has no plans to introduce the mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid, as it would not be a “silver bullet”, and that a much stronger and broader case must be made if the UK is to change how it produces white bread."