The UK government and devolved administrations agreed to take forward proposal to ensure that non-wholemeal wheat flour will be required to contain 250 micrograms of folic acid per 100 grams of flour to help in the prevention of neural tube defects in babies. They will also legislate to increase the minimum level of calcium carbonate, iron, and niacin in non-wholemeal flour to 15% of the nutrient reference value per 100g of flour.

Following a separate UK-wide public consultation in 2019, the UK government and devolved administrations announced in September 2021 their intention to proceed with arrangements to require the mandatory fortification of non-wholemeal wheat flour with folic acid, to help prevent neural tube defects (NTDs) in foetuses.

To minimise the impact of this requirement on industry this policy was co-ordinated as part of this wider review of the regulations.

The consultation covering the wider review of the regulations in 2022 sought views and further information on proposals to:

  • increase the minimum level of added nutrients to non-wholemeal flour and update criteria requirements for calcium carbonate added to flour
  • introduce the mandatory addition of folic acid to flour at 250 micrograms per 100 grams of non-wholemeal wheat flour
  • clarify that mandatory fortification applies to flour derived from common wheat only
  • exempt small-scale mills from the fortification requirements (those producing less than 500 metric tonnes per annum)
  • exempt flour used as a minor ingredient in a final product (less than 10% of the final product)
  • introduce the use of improvement notices to the enforcement regime

Of the proposals put forward, the UK Government said it intended to proceed with all of the ones set out in the consultation with the exception of the exemption of flour used as a minor ingredient. This was ‘primarily due to the added complexity this would create which could have the potential to compromise the effectiveness and enforceability of the regulations’.

The use of the term wholemeal remains contentious in some parts of the industry. The Real Bread Campaign has complained about its use to describe ‘50/50’ loaves and those that contain small amounts of white flour. At the time, Defra clarified that Regulation 6 of the Bread and Flour Regulations 1998 is “clear and strict” in that the term wholemeal shouldn’t be used in the labelling, advertising, or name of such bread, but instead declared on the ingredients list. However, it stressed it was not making a statement of the law, and that only the courts can interpret the law in a legally binding way. To help businesses navigate this, guidance on Regulation 6 is expected to be released shortly.

The UK Government will notify the World Trade Organization (all UK) and the European Commission (for changes in Northern Ireland) in accordance with international obligations, with a view to making the legislative changes later in 2024.