French food watchdog recommends slashing trans fat levels in a wide range of bakery products, including biscuits and cakes, following findings from a new report released this week, reports Lindsey Partos.
Commissioned by France's food standards agency, AFSSA, (Agence Francaise de Securite Sanitaire des Aliments), the report suggests that of trans fatty acids should not exceed 1 g/100 g of the product as consumed.
For table oil, trans fats should represent under 0.5 per cent of total fatty acids; and for margarines and shortenings, trans fats should be a maximum of one per cent of total fatty acids, the report recommends.
A trans fatty acid is an unsaturated fatty acid molecule that contains a trans double bond.
Though trace amounts of trans fats are found naturally, in dairy and meats, the vast majority are formed during the manufacture of processed foods.
Trans fats formed from partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, that extend shelf life and flavour stability, has displaced natural solid fats and liquid oils in many areas of food processing.
But mounting evidence suggests the TFAs raise LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, causing the arteries to become more rigid and clogged. An increase in LDL cholesterol levels can lead to heart disease, the number one global killer.
In the US, from 1 January 2006 food manufacturers will have to list trans fat on the nutrition label. Europe as yet has no labelling rules in place to alert consumers to the presence of TFAs in food products.
But in 2003 Denmark became the first country in the world to introduce restrictions. Oils and fat are now forbidden on the Danish market if they contain trans fatty acids exceeding 2 per cent, a move that effectively bans partially hydrogenated oils.
Tilting in this direction, the AFSSA report recommends that new measures should be adopted to make labelling of TFAs obligatory; with manufacturers obliged to state the quantity of trans fats in a food product, by expressing TFAs as a percentage of overall fat.
Identifying a growing market, leading ingredients firms have already launched a raft of oils to target 'trans free' formulation demands.
In February Germany's Bayer CropScience announced an agreement with private agro firm Cargill to bring a high oleic rapeseed oil, that will not require hydrogenation, to market by 2007.
They join Dow AgroSciences, Bunge, ADM and DuPont that have all launched their various brands of zero or low trans oil, in the battle for market share as food makers undergo the investment in new technologies and new oil ingredients.
Reflecting consumer awareness, food makers have already started to remove the TFAs from a variety of food products. Nestle, the number one global food company, told FoodNavigator.com recently that it had embarked on a process to cut the TFA's from its products.
"We have taken the decision to reduce trans fats levels to less than 1 per cent of total food energy, the level recommended by the World Health Organisation," said a spokesperson for the food giant.
In the US, incoming labelling rules have not been the only incentive for food makers to slice TFAs from formulations; litigation threats have also contributed.
In a landmark settlement in February food giant McDonalds has agreed to pay $8.5 million (€6.6m) to settle a lawsuit over artery-clogging trans fats in its cooking oils.
The firm will donate $7 million to the American Heart Association and spend another $1.5 million to inform the public of its trans fat plans.
San-Francisco activists BanTransFat.com challenged that although McDonalds had announced it would voluntarily change to a cooking oil with less trans fat by February 2003, the firm had failed to make the switch, and had neglected to inform the public of this status quo.