Bread should be fortified with folic acid to protect babies from devastating medical conditions, a major study concluded.

London - White flour and bread should be fortified with folic acid to protect babies from devastating medical conditions, a major study concluded.

It clears the way to add the vitamin to food to ensure babies do not develop illnesses such as spina bifida in the womb.

An average of two women a day have abortions after discovering their developing baby has a neural tube defect. And every week two children are born with the condition, which can lead to a lifetime of pain, paralysis and ill health.

Supporters of adding folic acid to flour suggest it would save between 165 and 500 lives a year, depending on how much is used.

Experts say folic acid should be included in the vitamin mix as is the case in 81 other countries, including the United States.

Spina bifida is the best known neural tube defect and occurs when the spine does not develop properly, leaving a gap, generally leading to paralysis and a host of complications.

A second condition called anencephaly occurs when the brain does not form properly and is fatal.

Opponents of fortifying flour have relied on an American study dating back to 1998 which said there was a danger in consuming too much folic acid. It was suggested over-consumption could mask problems that cause neurological damage.

However, the experts from Queen Mary and the School of Advanced Study at the University of London, have discovered the conclusions of the US study were based on error.

The charity Shine, which supports families where a baby is born with spina bifida, said: "We do feel mandatory fortification is necessary. It would mean that these babies are born and they are healthier."

Daily Mail