Dr. José Cordero

On April 14th, the Food and Drug Administration agreed to permit the addition of folic acid—a B vitamin known to prevent birth defects—to corn masa flour. The announcement comes after four years of efforts by the March of Dimes and CRECE’s Co-Director Dr. José Cordero.

For years, folic acid has been a mainstay of grain products such as breakfast cereals. Folic acid has been shown to decrease the likelihood of several rare and serious neural tube birth defects, such as spina bifida and anencephaly. Since its introduction to commonly-consumed grains and foods in 1998, rates of these birth defects dropped by 35%, making it a resounding success.

However, corn masa flour was not included in the FDA’s 1998 regulation. Corn masa flour is used to make tortillas and is a staple in many Hispanic households, often replacing the grains and cereals that were fortified with folic acid. As a result, rates of neural tube defects are twice as high among Hispanic populations compared with white or African-American populations. The newly fortified corn masa flour could prevent as many as 120 birth defects each year across the United States.

The March of Dimes began advocating for corn masa fortification four years ago, and coordinated the testing required by the FDA to prove that folic acid will remain stable in corn masa flour through the product’s shelf-life. CRECE’s José Cordero is a board member with the March of Dimes and has been pushing for folic acid fortification of corn masa flour for ten years. He spoke with PBS News Hour about the approval process and what it means for Hispanic women. Click here to listen to the interview or read a transcript.

CRECE and PROTECT partner with March of Dimes in the United States and Puerto Rico to conduct preterm birth awareness events each year. Last year, PROTECT helped the March of Dimes Puerto Rico chapter raise over $500,000 to promote awareness of preterm birth on the island. CRECE also worked with March of Dimes to produce a Zika information session in San Juan in February of 2016. CRECE looks forward to other great partnership events with March of Dimes.