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Coalition petitions FDA to fortify corn masa flour with folic acid

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 18, 2012 Serious birth defects of the brain and spine in America's babies, particularly those of Hispanic origin, could be reduced if the nation's corn masa flour products were fortified with the B vitamin folic acid, according to a new petition filed with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) by a coalition of six organizations:

  • Gruma Corporation
  • Spina Bifida Association
  • March of Dimes Foundation
  • American Academy of Pediatrics
  • Royal DSM N.V.
  • National Council of La Raza

The coalition members note that Hispanic women are about 20 percent more likely to have a child with a neural tube defect (NTD), which includes spina bifida and anencephaly, than non-Hispanic white women. Although the reasons for the disparity are not well understood, Hispanic women have been found to have lower intake of folic acid overall compared to non-Hispanic white women.

Fortification of enriched cereal grains such as bread and pasta with folic acid was mandated by the FDA in 1998; however, corn masa flour lacks federal regulatory approval for the addition of folic acid. The rate of NTDs in the U.S. has decreased by nearly one-third since fortification. Despite this success, about 3,000 pregnancies in the U.S. still are affected by NTDs annually and Hispanics have the highest rate when compared to other race or ethnic groups.

Corn masa flour is made from specially treated corn and used to make products common in Latin American diets such as corn tortillas and tamales. The petitioners believe that by targeting traditional Hispanic food made with corn masa for folic acid fortification, it would be possible to lower the rate of NTDs among Hispanics, particularly Mexican-Americans. Studies have shown that folic acid works if taken before conception and during early pregnancy. Many countries in Latin America already allow fortification

Contact: Elizabeth Lynch
March of Dimes Foundation

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