The World Health Organisation (WHO) has recommended that governments around the world phase out partially hydrogenated oils if trans-fat labelling alone doesn't spur significant reductions.
The recommendation was put forth by the WHO in a proposed action plan for its food standards rulemaking body, the Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex) entitled Request for comments on draft action plan for implementation of the global strategy on diet, physical activity and health.
"If the provisions for labelling of, and claims for, trans-fatty acids do not affect a marked reduction in the global availability of foods containing trans-fatty acids produced by processing of oils and by partial hydrogenation, consideration should be given to the setting of limits on the content of industrially produced trans-fatty acids in foods," said the Codex action plan.
Deadlines for comments are 15 October 2006 on matters related to the CCNFSDU (Codex Committee on Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Uses) and 1 January 2007 on matters related to the CCFL (Codex Committee on Food Labelling).
Trans fats, which are mainly found in (partially) hydrogenated vegetable oil, common ingredients in thousands of food products, have been negatively linked to raising blood cholesterol levels and promoting heart disease.
Research shows that when too much 'bad' cholesterol circulates in the blood, it can slowly build up in the inner walls of the arteries that feed the heart and brain resulting in atherosclerosis.
According to the Oxford University researchers, a recent analysis of all the evidence recommended that people should reduce or stop their dietary intake of trans fatty acids to minimise the related risk of coronary heart disease.
The WHO initiative has met with approval from consumer groups. "If implemented, the action plan would be an important step in combating the global epidemic of diet-related disease and obesity,"said Bruce Silverglade, director of legal affairs for the US-based Center for Science in the Public Interest .
The Codex global strategy also recommended an increase in consumption of fruits, vegetables and legumes, whole grains and nuts, and proposed amending the General Standard for the Labelling of Prepackaged Foods to show the ingoing percentage of any ingredient that 'is the subject of an express or implied claim about the presence of any fruits, vegetables, whole grains or added sugars'.
"Consumers regard fruit, vegetables and whole grains as healthy foods and manufacturers capitalise on this view. Claims for the presence of these foods as ingredients abound," said the Codex document.
"Disclosure of the amounts of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and nuts in multi-ingredient foods would enable consumers to compare the amounts of these nutritionally desirable ingredients in foods and make their selections accordingly."
The nutritional quality and safety of products, and the need for greater consumer clarity, were also discussed.
"Principles for the addition of essential nutrients to foods could assist in the development of foods suitable for inclusion in diets aimed at reducing risk of noncommunicable diseases. For example, when reducing or eliminating the trans-fatty acids in foods, advice on more healthful alternatives may be useful."
Codex will finalise the proposed action plan after accepting comments from governments and recognise representatives of industry and consumer organizations. Codex committees will then draft specific rules implementing the final action plan. The process can take several years.
Codex, funded jointly by the WHO and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, develops model regulatory policies for more than 150 other countries. Its regulatory standards and guidelines help govern the $500 billion a year international food trade.