Food Makers Vow to Cut Trans Fats Globally

ImageCreditAudrey Helen Weber

ImageCreditAudrey Helen Weber

Beyond the United States, countries like Canada and Denmark have taken action against the use of trans fats, but lawmakers and regulators in many other places haven't - because they are either unaware of the health risks or they are reluctant to take on the food industry.

Artificial trans fats, or trans fatty acids, are made when vegetable oil hardens in a process called hydrogenation. Manufacturers often use them as they have a longer shelf life than other fats.

"There are countries where the risk is particularly high".

In certain countries in Latin America there are high risks, but some are taking action already. In Mexico, a country that has a very high intake of trans fats, initiatives are being established to lower that. "It is happening in more countries in the Middle East, but the information we have is limited".

Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was expected to issue the call to action at a news conference in Geneva on Monday. Cardiovascular diseases, associated with consuming a diet high in artificial trans fats, are an example of a non-communicable disease.

Artificial trans fats are "easily replaceable", he said. Food and food-oil manufacturers are working on replacements for the partially hydrogenated oils they've relied on for so many years, and palm, canola, and sunflower oil are widely used. "Only your heart will know the difference ...,'" Frieden tells Howard. Some governments have implemented nationwide bans on partially hydrogenated oils, the main source of industrially-produced trans fats.

Rebone Ntsie, Director of Nutrition at South Africa's Department of Health (NDoH), says the legislation covers any oils and fats "either alone or as processed foods, which are intended for human consumption or assumed to be intended for human consumption, in the retail trade, catering businesses, restaurants, institutions, bakeries etcetera".

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"Food and beverage companies have worked diligently and successfully to reduce the use of PHOs, and these actions have reduced PHO-related trans-fat use by close to 98%", said the statement from Leon Bruner, the association's executive vice president of science and regulatory affairs and its chief science officer.

Once upon a time, the product was pitched as being healthier than its natural alternatives. It includes plenty of fish and some poultry, but foods not included in this diet (or included in small amounts) include red meats, sweets, eggs and butter. The initiative, dubbed REPLACE, is aimed at saving the more than 500,000 lives a year that the Geneva, Switzerland-based World Health Organization estimates are lost to cardiovascular disease caused by Partially Hydrogenated Oils (PHOs), the primary dietary source of artificial trans fat in processed foods.

The regulations also require any product labelled as "trans fat-free" to contain less than one gram of trans fats per 100 grams.

"Multinational companies that make trans fats and have used them as ingredients said they have largely eliminated those oils from foods in the US, parts of Europe and Canada, where governments already restrict their use".

In explicit new advice, World Health Organization has said that excessive amounts of saturated fat and trans fat should be replaced by polyunsaturated fats, such as fish, canola and olive oils.

For instance, "they helped keep the icing on the top of a cupcake solid and prevented it from rolling off the cupcake".

But Nkosi's health situation could have been worse had the South African government not acted to limit trans fats in processed foods back in 2011. "Instead, they find another form of saturated fat or a fat that has the properties of saturated fat", he said.

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