EFSA issues ESCO report on risks and benefits of folic acid

The EFSA Scientific Cooperation Working Group (ESCO WG) on the analysis of risks and benefits of fortification of food with folic acid concluded a project which reviewed scientific evidence regarding high intakes of folic acid and the need for a review of current guidance on tolerable upper levels of folic acid for all population groups.

In its report, the Working Group suggests that current data are insufficient to allow a full quantitative risk assessment of risks linked to folic acid and that scientific developments within this area should be closely monitored. As for other ESCO Working Groups, the final outcome of this project is not a Scientific Opinion - which remains the task of EFSA’s Panels and Scientific Committee - but aims to help EFSA decide whether a further assessment of possible risks linked to high intakes of folic acid would be appropriate at this time. The report will be now reviewed by EFSA’s Panel on Dietetic products, nutrition and allergies (NDA) which will consider this review in the light of their work programme.

The project collected, compiled and analysed information on recommended and actual intakes of folic acid and folate. Among the issues considered were: national congenital anomalies registries, prevalence of neural tube defects (NTDs), recommended dietary intakes of folic acid and folate, practices of voluntary and mandatory folic acid food fortification within European countries, and use of supplements, also in relation to NTDs.

The report was also informed by the discussions at a scientific meeting held in Uppsala on 21-22 January 2009 where over 60 scientific experts from the European Union, Switzerland, the United States and Canada discussed and debated the latest scientific developments regarding folate and folic acid.

While the health benefits of folic acid in relation to the reduction in risk of neural tube defects are well established through human intervention studies, other health benefits are not supported by conclusive evidence (e.g. reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease). The report also explored the relationship between folic acid and cancer risk and concluded that current data are insufficient to allow a full quantitative risk assessment of folic acid and cancer and that scientific developments within this area should be closely monitored.

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