Nourishing the nation
Flour is valuable, versatile and nutritious. Packed with vitamins and minerals it is probably one of the most important food elements in the world and it forms an essential part of our daily diet, from breakfast to a sandwich lunch or afternoon tea, through to our evening meal.
The chart below, with data from McCance and Widdowson shows the enormous contribution flour makes to our vitamin and mineral intake.
Bread and Flour Regulations
There is a long history of specific regulations covering bread and flour in the United Kingdom – dating back to at least the reign of King Edward I in the 13th century. And even today the sector is controlled by law by way of the Bread and Flour Regulations.
Mandatory fortification of flour
The Bread and Flour Regulations (1998) specify that four vitamins and minerals must be added to all white and brown flour. These are calcium, iron, thiamine (Vitamin B1) and niacin (Vitamin B3).
Wholemeal flour is exempt as the wheat bran and wheat germ from the grain included in the final flour are natural sources of vitamins and minerals.
The addition of these vitamins and minerals are mandatory and required by law.
In June 2021 the text of the Bread and Flour Regulations was updated to reflect the exit of the United Kingdom’s from the European Union. The revised text can be viewed here.
The Statutory Instruments which contain the revised text as well as the transitional provisions is The Food Regulations 2021 and can be accessed here. Currently, these regulations apply to England only.
What are the key changes?
The Food Regulations 2021
Amend, among other, the Bread and Flour Regulations 1998 in relation to food composition
Flour and bread imported from EU, EEA and third countries are no longer exempted from complying with the composition rules laid out in the Bread and Flour Regulations 1998.
Unfortified flour and bread and other flour-containing products can be produced in England with unfortified flour as long as they are exported / not placed on the English market
Unfortified flour can still be imported in England as long as it’s used for the production of products destined for export
Why do these requirements exist?
These requirements were introduced in the middle of the 20th century to ensure that these nutrients were being consumed in sufficient quantity. The position was reviewed by government advisory committees at the end of the 1990s, reaching the conclusion that this statutory addition of nutrients continued to play an important part in the overall diet.
Do they have a significant effect on nutritional intake?
Yes. Wheat flour (including the flour in bread and baked products) accounts for 35% of the nation's calcium intake, 31% of the iron intake and 31% of the thiamine intake (see table above for more details).
Do the regulations affect imported bread and flour?
Yes. From 1 October 2022 bread and flour imported in England from any third country will need to comply with the fortification rules set out in the Bread and Flour Regulations 1998. (Ref. Regulation 6 (1) The Food Regulations 2021 – Transitional Provisions).
Fortification of flour with folic acid
Mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid has been under consideration in the UK for many years, but due to continuing concerns over adverse effects in some fractions of the population no decision has been reached.
The Government ran a consultation on the matter, which closed in September 2019. As of September 2021, no recommendations have been issued following the consultation, though the matter is still live and it is expected that a joint proposal from Defra and the Department of Health and Social Care will be put forward later this year.
What is folic acid and why is it needed?
Folic acid, known as folate when found in its natural form in food, is a water-soluble vitamin. Humans have a daily dietary intake requirement of 200mcg. This vitamin is necessary to produce and maintain new cells and is therefore especially important during periods of rapid new growth such as during pregnancy, where a dose of 400mcg is recommended. Inadequate blood levels of folate at this time increase the risk of neural tube defects (NTDs).
What is the milling industry position?
UK Flour Millers has always held the view that it is for government to decide upon public health matters. Should the government decide to introduce mandatory fortification, the flour milling industry would work with them to find the best way of achieving this.