Folic Acid for Everyone?
There is something of an uncharacteristic fervour amongst the milling world. The small-scale artisans producing stone-ground flour around the country are concerned about their very existence, all because of folate (or folic acid vitamin B9).
Folic acid is needed by us all for cell maintenance but is especially important for pre-pregnancy and pregnant women in order to reduce the chances of their embryo suffering neural tube defects (NTD) such as spina bifida and The Guardian reports that the UK has the highest incidence of NTD in Europe. To combat this, the UK government has published a consultation paper for the mandatory fortification of all flour with folic acid.
Folic acid is found naturally (so more correctly termed folate) in some of my favourite foods such as chickpeas, beans and dark green veg. For many years it has been added to breakfast cereals.
Folate is also found naturally in wheatgerm along with a host of other important nutrients. Importantly, the only flour that contains wheatgerm is that produced by millers making stoneground flour – the small-scale artisan mills all employ stones to mill. The larger, often huge, modern mills supplying most of the UK’s flour make almost exclusively roller-milled flour. Part of the roller-mill production process entirely removes the germ and with it the vast majority of nutrients – even in the wholemeal version as the germ is not put back but instead fed to animals. Roller-milled flour has its uses certainly and is very popular, tasty and inexpensive, but the nutritional differences should be noted.
For the large mills in the UK, mandatory fortification with folic acid is not likely to give rise to much of an issue. It is the smaller mills producing less than 1000 tonnes a year where the problems arise. There are three fundamental issues for artisan millers: First, customers expect their flour to come only from the cereals and nothing else; second, these traditional mills are often very cramped and lack the space for this new equipment; third, the cost of the machinery needed could we put some of the small mills out of business.
Coupled with these compelling issues and the presence of some naturally occurring folate in stoneground flour, artisan mills, led by The Traditional Cornmillers Guild are looking for an exemption. If you would like to support their efforts, read more and sign their petition here… Do it before 9 September though as this is the deadline for the consultation. You will make some millers very happy.