FDA’s Approval of Corn Masa Flour Fortification Could Prevent Birth Defects for Many Children

On April 14, 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that they will permit fortification of corn masa flour with folic acid to help prevent certain birth defects, effective immediately. The announcement reflected a decision to accept a Citizens’ Petition filed in 2012 by the March of Dimes, American Academy of Pediatrics, Spina Bifida Association, National Council of La Raza, Royal DSM and Gruma Corporation.

The FDA’s announcement calling for the voluntary fortification of corn masa flour will have a major beneficial impact on reducing neural tube defects –severe birth defects of the brain and spine – in particular, among the Hispanic population. Corn masa flour is used to make products such as corn tortillas, a staple product in the diets of many Hispanics, such as Mexican Americans. Mexican-American women have lower folic acid intake than non-Hispanic white women and are less likely than non-Hispanic white women to take vitamin supplements containing folic acid. Hispanic women also tend to be at higher risk for having a baby affected by a neural tube defect.

CDC Director, Dr. Tom Frieden, celebrated the decision saying, “Adding folic acid to corn masa flour will further reduce the risk of neural tube defects among scores of children – especially those born to Hispanic women. Making the healthy choice the easy choice is a public health goal, and we applaud the groups that worked hard to make this possible.”

CDC research indicates that folic acid fortification of corn masa flour – – could increase folic acid intake among Hispanics and reduce the number of neural tube defects in this population. The fortification of corn masa flour with folic acid could increase intake by:

  • 3.9 percent for non-Hispanic white women;
  • 21 percent for Mexican-American women;
  • 42.9 percent for Mexican-American women who reported only consuming enriched cereal grain products such as bread, pasta and corn grits, and who report speaking primarily Spanish. These women do not report consuming ready-to-eat breakfast cereals or dietary supplements containing folic acid.

For more information about folic acid and neural tube defects, please visit http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/folicacid/index.html.

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