DSM, Gruma Corporation, the Spina Bifida Association, the March of Dimes Foundation, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Council of La Raza say Hispanic women are 20% more likely to have a child with a neural tube defect than non-Hispanic white women.
While the reasons for this not well understood, Hispanic women have been found to have lower intake of folic acid compared with non-Hispanic white women, says the group, which notes that the rate of NTDs in the US has decreased by nearly one-third since the fortification of enriched cereal grains such as bread and pasta with folic acid was mandated by the FDA in 1998.
Many Latin American countries allow fortification of corn masa products with folic acid
However, corn masa flour - which is made from specially treated corn and used to make products common in Latin American diets such as corn tortillas and tamales - lacks federal regulatory approval for the addition of folic acid.
Several countries in Latin America already allow fortification of corn masa products with folic acid, including Costa Rica, El Salvador and Mexico, add the petitioners.
American Academy of Pediatrics president Robert W. Block said: "The AAP strongly encourages the FDA to allow the fortification of corn masa flour so that a greater population of pregnant women and their unborn children can benefit from this critical nutrient."
Fortification of cereal grains with folic acid has been a public health success story
In a commentary published in the American Journal of Public Health last summer, lead author Alan Fleischman (medical director at March of Dimes) said: “Fortification of cereal grains with folic acid in 1998 is a public health success story. Adding this B vitamin to corn masa flour will build on that initiative and begin to address the disparities in these birth defects.
“Despite the fact that fortification has given thousands of babies a healthy start in life, it is imperative we address this serious health problem in the Hispanic community. Public health officials and businesses must work together to expand the success of folic acid fortification to corn masa and to the Hispanic community in the US.”
By 2050, the Hispanic population is forecast to reach 132.8m or about 30% of the US population.