A half dozen medical and advocacy groups have petitioned the FDA to require the addition of folic acid to corn masa flour products, such as tortillas, in order to help prevent birth defects in babies born to Hispanic women.
Hispanic women are about 20% more likely to have a child with a neural tube defect than non-Hispanic white women, explained the American Academy of Pediatrics, the March of Dimes, the Spina Bifida Association, and several other groups in their petition to the FDA.
Although the reasons are not fully understood, it might be because Hispanic women eat less folic acid-enriched bread and pasta than white women, the groups said.
The prevalence of neural tube defects has dropped by about a third since 1998 when the FDA began mandating that certain grains -- including corn meal, wheat flour, rice, macaroni, and bread -- be enriched with folic acid.
But corn masa flour -- made from specially treated corn and used to make foods common in Latin American diets, including corn tortillas and tamales -- are not covered by the FDA mandate.
Many countries in Latin America already fortify corn masa products with folic acid, according to a press release issued by the March of Dimes.
"We've seen the success with fortifying cereal grains with folic acid," said Jennifer Howse, MD, President of the March of Dimes, in the press release. "Adding folic acid to corn masa flour can successfully decrease neural tube defects in the Hispanic community. This is a safe and effective way to address the disparities we see in the Hispanic community and will give even more babies a healthy start in life."
The CDC advises that women of childbearing age should take a daily multivitamin containing folic acid as part of a healthy diet that includes leafy green vegetables and fortified foods to reach the recommended 400 daily micrograms of folic acid.
The FDA said it does not comment on petitions its receives.
By Emily P. Walker, Washington Correspondent, MedPage Today