WASHINGTON — Birth defects of the brain and spine could be reduced, particularly in Hispanic babies, if the nation’s corn masa flour products were fortified with folic acid, according to a petition received by the Food and Drug Administration on April 17. The petition was sent by a coalition of six organizations:

Gruma Corp., Royal DSM N.V., the March of Dimes Foundation, the Spina Bifida Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Council of La Raza.

Corn masa flour is used in products common to the Latin American diet such as corn tortillas and tamales, according to the petition, but it lacks federal regulatory approval for the addition of folic acid, a B vitamin.

The F.D.A. in 1998 mandated the fortification of enriched cereal grains such as bread and pasta with folic acid. The rate of neural tube defects in the United States has decreased by nearly one-third since then.

Neural tube defects, which include spina bifida and anencephaly, still affect about 3,000 pregnancies annually in the United States. Hispanic women are about 20% more likely to have a child with a neural tube defect than non-Hispanic white women. Also, Hispanic women have lower intake of folic acid overall when compared to non-Hispanic white women.

“Adding folic acid to corn masa flour can successfully decrease neural tube defects in the Hispanic community,” said Jennifer L. Howse, president of the March of Dimes. “This is a safe and effective way to address the disparities we see in the Hispanic community and will give even more babies a healthy start in life.”

Joel Suarez, chief executive officer of Gruma Corp., said, “Gruma Corp. has been privileged to work with its fellow petitioners to pursue the addition of folic acid to corn masa flour so that consumers of its Mission tortillas and other leading corn masa-based products may receive the benefits of this important nutrient.”