Dear Gillian and Virginia: With a bit of ministerial help, we could eat our way to health and prevent some serious diseases. Here's how

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Would you please act as joint fairy godmothers to 100 British children? I would like you to take action to put a magic ingredient into flour that will stop this number of children being born each year with terrible birth defects. This measure would provide a solution to one of the worst problems referred to in Food For Children, yesterday's report from the National Forum for Coronary Heart Disease Prevention.

It may sound fantastic but it is an entirely practical suggestion. No magic wand is required. All you need to do is bang together some official heads in your respective departments and you will bring untold happiness to these children at no significant cost to anyone.

As you must be aware, the Government has had the information to do this since 1991 but there has been a failure to act. Consequently, some 300 children in Britain have been born with spina bifida - a birth defect that prevents most of them from leading anything approaching a normal life. If folic acid had been added to bread and flour, most and possibly all these birth defects could have been prevented.

I can understand you hesitating to require the addition of a vitamin to flour. It smacks of government intervention; a lot of people don't like things being added to water or bread and you are trying to get rid of regulations. Folic acid, however, is present in flour before it is refined, so it is not a question of adding something that was not there before but of putting back something that should be present. As mothers, you must appreciate the importance of a good diet for children to be able to grow.

As your boss is busily reaffirming the special relationship, what better time to follow the US example? The National Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia, have recommended that flour should be supplemented with folic acid.

Of course, you know that this is part of a much larger problem of malnutrition in Britain caused by an excessively processed diet - as the report pointed out. There is nothing wrong with high-energy foods, such as chips - provided children are also eating fruit and vegetables. But, let's face it, a lot of them are not. Mothers and children are confused and, in effect, manipulated by the promotion of such highly refined foods as biscuits and savoury snacks. We need policy changes that will make health choices easy choices. How about levying a tax on all food advertising to fund a healthy-eating campaign?

Gillian, as Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, you are our secular goddess of the earth and its bounty. Virginia, as Secretary of State for Health, you are guardian of the corporeal integrity of the nation. As two of the most powerful women in the land, you have the means between you to sort this out. To do so you may have to put aside some ideological considerations on intervention. But just think of what is best for our children.

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