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Scientist challenges Commission to reconsider saturated fatty acid reduction targets

By Ben Bouckley, 15-Feb-2012

Related topics: Dairy-based ingredients, Science, Sugar, salt and fat reduction

A leading scientist has challenged the European Commission to reconsider its current targets aimed at cutting saturated fatty acids in foods upon the basis of the latest science.

Speaking at the European Dairy Association (EDA) policy conference on ‘Saturated Fat and Dairy for Health’, Professor Arne Astrup from the University of Copenhagen challenged the Commission to do so upon the basis of recent scientific findings.

But Stephanie Bodenbach from DG Sanco said that the Commission would stick to the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA’s) 2010 recommendations on dietary reference values, which indicate that saturated fatty acids intake should be as low as possible in a nutritionally adequate diet.

Professor Andre Huyghebaert (University of Ghent) present at the panel discussion where the comments were made, told Dairy Reporter.com: "I found the event very interesting. Professor Astrup has a very particular opinion on the issue of saturated fatty acids, particularly in dairy products. His main emphasis was on the matrix effect, that the situation of saturated fatty acids in cheese is different from that in butter, for instance.

"In my opinion Prof. Astrup said some reasonable things in favour of an adaptation of the current thinking on saturated fatty acids, on the condition that there is some consensus to confirm the evidence. I think this work is interesting, but it has to be confirmed by other scientists, so a consensus document can be drawn up to take things forward further."‘

'Useful clash’

Asked about Bodenbach's reaction to Astrup's points, he said: "She was neither negative nor positive - more neutral, I would say. But I think most of the panel members agreed that you need a kind of consensus document based on scientific evidence, where specialists in the field agree upon the thesis that there are particular matrix effects in terms of saturated fatty acids. Once you have that you can go a step further."

The EDA said that the panel discussion revealed the distance between scientists and policymakers, but itself acknowledged the challenge of translating complex science into “clear but not oversimplified messages” that the latter could use.

EDA secretary general, Joop Kleibeuker, said: “There was a clear exchange of views between science and policy making. This clash was very useful, because it demonstrated the policymakers’ need for clear messages on the scientific evidence put forward.”

Speaking to delegates prior to the discussion session, Astrup said that recent scientific findings indicated that we needed to reassess our perceptions of saturated fat.

The effect of specific foods such as cheese on heart disease and stroke risk could not be predicted upon the basis of saturated fatty acids alone, he said, because other nutrients may reduce the risks.

Using single nutrients and single risk markets was not the correct means by which to establish dietary recommendations, Astrup added, since people consumed foods not nutrients.

Milk and vascular protection

One of the speakers, Professor Ian Givens from the University of Reading, emphasised the possibility that higher milk consumption over a longer timeframe may offer some vascular protection.

He discussed the value of milk and dairy foods in health and tackling disease, pinpointing dairy foods as important sources of key nutrients.

A holistic approach to dietary recommendations was needed, Givens added, with the food matrix [recent research indicates that the ‘food matrix’ within which the nutrients are contained impacts upon their health effect] are important and the use of single risk markers may be misleading.

Speaking from a political standpoint, MEP Esther de Lange, said that European Parliament decisions on health and nutrition were not simply the result of a clash between committees, nationalities and political visions, but also took into account current consumer needs.