Momentous world events have a habit of dragging us away, kicking and screaming, from the relentless preoccupation with ourselves.

Suddenly, liberty and freedom of choice become important concepts which need to be defended against narrow-mindedness and mass manipulation.

I was reminded how important it is to stand up and be counted by the folic acid story.

In 1970, Dr John Smithells published a paper in the Lancet linking folate insufficiency to neural tube defects.

An American study in the late Nineties confirmed his findings and concluded that these common birth defects were reduced by 19 per cent following supplementation of grains and floured products with folic acid.

There are now official guidelines stating that women should take 400 micrograms daily of folic acid prior to conception and during the first trimester of pregnancy to reduce the risk of neural tube defects in their babies.

It has taken 30 years for Dr Smithells' observations to be recognised by the powers that be.

How many babies could have been prevented from having spina bifida if his claims had been taken seriously from the start?

Yet, we might never have found out if some bureaucrat with little knowledge of modern food had insisted that eating a "healthy, balanced diet" was perfectly sufficient and there was no need to supplement with the vitamin.

One suspects that, in the future, many common ailments and diseases may simply turn out to be deficiencies of specific nutrients due to the quality of our food intake and altered eating habits.

In addition, increasing levels of chronic stress and pollution mean we have an altogether higher need for vitamins and minerals than our grandparents.

Worryingly, there are still a large number of unenlightened bureaucrats who are threatening to undermine our right to buy vitamin supplements from health food stores, basing their policies on evidence presented by drug companies.

At present, the UK still has a liberated approach to supplements, while many other European countries impose heavy restrictions.

In Italy, vitamin E is not allowed in dosages over 100mg and in Germany, a prescription is required for vitamin C over 300mg.

By limiting the potency of vitamins and denying the public access to them, any therapeutic or preventative effects become negligible.

Recently, there have been various failed attempts to discredit vitamins and one can't help entertaining the idea that there is a silent conspiracy underway to stop us from taking them.

Vitamin supplements cannot be patented, their price is set by market forces not by monopoly and their correct use should minimise the need for expensive "conventional" drug therapy.

Is there too much at stake for pharmaceuticals to allow further inroads into their markets?

If you value your right to choose safe natural health products, please write and support Consumers For Health Choice, 9 Old Queen Street, London SW1H 9JA,