There are articles spreading across the internet this week about a recent study in Ireland linking neural tube birth defects to vitamin B12 deficiency. The study pointed out that a) women who consume little or no animal products, as well as b) women who have intestinal disorders that prevent them from absorbing B12 properly, are at highest risk of being B12 deficient and that it's this B12 deficiency that increases the chance of the development of neural tube defects. At least some of the articles mention the B12 absorption issue, but not all of them do, which is unfortunate, since awareness should be raised of this condition. Furthermore, not mentioning the absorption issue leaves all of the negative attention focused on veganism.
One example of this is the UK Telegraph's article, which has me particularly irked since along with omitting the mention of the absorption issue, it states flat-out in its title that a "Vegan diet increases the risk of birth defects". Like some of the other articles I scanned, it makes a reference to supplementation, but fails completely to mention the wide range of foods that are fortified with B12 already. All of the 4-5 articles I scanned that covered the study emphasized that B12 can "only" be found in meat, eggs or dairy; few of them made more than a slight reference to supplementation, and none mentioned the absurdly high percentage of foods like soy products and cereals that are already fortified with B12 -- foods that aren't, in fact, animal-derived. (See this article from the Vegetarian Resource Group for more information on how to get B12 in your diet from non-animal sources.)
What concerns me even further is that Telegraph's article (along with a few others) fails to mention what this one does, which is that
[f]or the study, the researchers analysed stored blood samples originally collected during early pregnancy from three groups of Irish women between 1983 and 1990. During that time, pregnant women in Ireland rarely took vitamin supplements.So, these articles are now going around, associating veganism with birth defects. This, in and of itself, is what's going to be kicked around in mainstream media for the next little while, since villifying veganism seems to be the trendy thing these days. This study, however, was conducted using women who weren't taking any vitamin supplements at all at a time when the B12-fortified foods so readily available and plentiful now were probably incredibly scarce. Vegans today live in a completely different context, yet if clarification of these significant facts in these articles about the study isn't provided, yet another myth about the (gasp!) dangers of being vegan will be perpetuated -- possibly for years to come.