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Readout of HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra’s Roundtable on Fortifying Corn Masa Products

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On Friday, March 29, 2024, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra hosted a roundtable with representatives of large manufacturers and distributors of corn masa flour products to discuss strategies to increase the commercial availability of food products that are fortified with folic acid. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf and staff from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also participated in the meeting.

In 2016, FDA allowed for the voluntary addition of folic acid to corn masa flour (CMF). Consuming corn masa flour products fortified with folic acid helps prevent neural tube defects, particularly among infants of Hispanic women. A recent CDC analysis found that, since the FDA allowed voluntary folic acid fortification of CMF, there has not been a significant improvement in blood folate levels among Hispanic women of reproductive age, who currently have the highest risk of having a baby affected by a Neural Tube Defect (7 NTDs per 10,000 live births).

At the roundtable, representatives from Bunge, the Food Industry Association (FMI), Kroger, the Latino Restaurant Association, Ole Mexican Foods, the Tortilla Industry Association, and Walmart shared updates about the work they are doing to make fortified corn masa flour products more widely available, and how federal partners can assist in their efforts. The representatives also shared information about the challenges they are facing, including educating the public about the health benefits of fortified corn masa flour products.

“We’re learning that we could easily address a really important health care need simply by enriching corn masa the way we have for flour for some time,” Secretary Becerra remarked to the attendees. He concluded the conversation with an ongoing commitment to support consumer and supplier education.

HHS has undertaken several noteworthy initiatives to improve health outcomes and services for the Hispanic community. These include reducing the cost of prescription drugs through the Inflation Reduction Act, providing the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline with Spanish language text and chat services, launching a Spanish website for FindSupport.gov (EncuentraApoyo.gov), and ensuring the ready availability of COVID-19 vaccines and test kits. HHS has also developed a Food is Medicine initiative, which focuses on integrating consistent access to diet- and nutrition- related resources to communities across the country. It is part of the Administration’s call to action to end hunger and reduce the prevalence of chronic disease in the United States by 2030.

HHS has a strong record of partnering with leaders in the Latino community to address health concerns and eliminate health disparities.

The following representatives from the following organizations participated in the meeting (in alpha order):

  • Bunge
  • The Food Industry Association (FMI)
  • Kroger
  • Latino Restaurant Association
  • Ole Mexican Foods
  • Tortilla Industry Association
  • Walmart

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