Can You #FindFolicAcid in Corn Masa Flour and Corn Tortillas?

02 December 2018

We need your help

US Consumers: Help us see if corn masa products outside the Atlanta market are fortified with folic acid. Next time you go to the grocery store, try to find folic acid in corn masa flour and corn tortillas. It may be labeled as folate. Whether you find it or not, snap a picture of the product and the ingredient label and post it to Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook with the hashtag #FindFolicAcid (also tag FFInetwork). See examples below.

Millers: Please make it a New Year’s Resolution to add folic acid to corn masa flour. If your company does that, e-mail FFI at info@ffinetwork.org so that your company can be recognized here.

Gruma Corporation is adding folic acid to instant corn masa flour sold in 4.4 pound bags with the Maseca brand.

Manufacturers: please require corn masa flour fortified with folic acid for your foods that contain at least 60% corn masa flour. If your company makes a New Year’s Resolution to do that, e-mail FFI at info@ffinetwork.org so that your company can be recognized here.

 

Very few US brands of corn masa flour and corn tortillas contain an essential nutrient for preventing severe brain and spine birth defects, according to a research letter published 16 October in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The research was conducted in the Atlanta market 19 months after a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decision to allow producers to voluntarily add folic acid (vitamin B) to their corn masa flour products.

Corn masa flour is a specially treated product used for tortillas, tamales, pupusas and other foods commonly consumed primarily by Hispanics of Mexican and Central American descent. In the United States, grain products labeled ‘enriched’ must contain folic acid, but this does not apply to corn masa flour. This is likely one reason that Hispanic women in the US have a 21% higher chance of having a baby with a brain or spine birth defect than non-Hispanics.

At the request of a multi-sector coalition in 2016 the FDA allowed – but did not require – folic acid to be added to corn masa flour.

In December 2017, researchers for the Center for Spina Bifida Prevention at Emory University bought corn products from 11 major grocery stores in Atlanta that cater to Hispanic populations. They found folic acid added to only 2 of 20 corn masa flour products and zero of 21 soft corn tortilla products. The researchers had the products’ nutrient content tested at certified laboratories and found that folic acid generally represented what was printed on the products’ nutrition label, which was no folic acid in most cases.

Fortifying corn masa flour would improve the folate status of everyone who eats corn masa flour products.

Dr. Godfrey Oakley, Director of the Center for Spina Bifida Prevention and collaborator on the study, said that, “Even though our study was conducted in Atlanta, we tested national brands and surveyed national grocery chains, and we fear that folic acid is not added to corn masa flour throughout the country. This unfortunately means that the prevalence among the Hispanic population probably remains high.”

Scott J. Montgomery, Director of the Food Fortification Initiative, said, “We would like to see large grocery chains, restaurant chains and tortilla chip manufacturers demand fortified masa flour. The demand should be for any products containing more than 60% masa flour to be made with fortified masa flour. This would mean manufacturers would fortify nearly all of the masa flour produced and lead to broad distribution and the desired prevention of these serious birth defects. Please help us make this happen.”

The recommended daily intake of folic acid (vitamin B9) is 400 micrograms a day for all adults. Folic acid is needed for reproducing cells, preventing a specific type of anemia, and reducing homocysteine levels.

For more information:

Fortify to prevent brain and spine birth defects

Answers to frequently asked questions about folic acid

Unfortified corn tortillas found near Austin, Texas.
Fortified corn masa flour found in Lawrenceville, Georgia.
Unfortified corn masa flour found in Nashille, Tennessee.