FSA considers regulatory action on trans fats

By Laura Crowley

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Trans fats, Nutrition, Uk food standards agency

The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) will discuss tomorrow whether to
maintain a voluntary approach for food manufacturers in limiting
harmful trans fatty acids or whether to introduce mandatory
restrictions.

The board meeting will gather opinion for the government after UK health secretary Alan Johnson asked the FSA for its urgent advice back in October in a significant step towards the possible banning of trans fats. ​Papers released by the FSA prior to the meeting show that, through voluntary industry action, artificial trans fat levels in food have decreased dramatically, with the estimated UK intake now being 1 per cent of food energy. Trans fat is a form of unsaturated fat produced when liquid vegetable oils are turned into solid fats through the process of hydrogenation. According to the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN), while trans fats have been associated with raised serum levels and heart disease, there is insufficient evidence regarding a connection with other diseases such as diabetes, obesity and cancer. "The report shows that trans fat consumption is well below the recommended average intake of 2 per cent of energy, and that voluntary industry action has been directly responsible for the drop in average intakes of trans fats by more than half,"​ said Julian Hunt FDF director of communications. If the board recommends that action should extend beyond current initiatives, it would have a huge impact on the food industry, requiring massive food reformulation. ​The SACN last month produced a report with recommendations for the FSA board and reiterated the maximum intake of trans fats being 2 per cent. However it said it had been rushed to meet the deadline, and therefore its advice is subject to public consultation. Discussion with the food industry showed key trade associations have policies in place to remove hydrogenated vegetable oil from their products. As a result, virtually all British Retail Consortium Members own brand products will be free from the oils by the end of this year. While the board is to considering how best to reduce trans fats levels, concerns are expressed in the papers that such reformulation should not increase saturated fat levels in food, which are also associated with CHD risk. Reducing average intakes of saturated fat from the current 13.3 per cent to 11 per cent of food energy should remain a priority for cardiovascular public health benefits. ​New York and Denmark have taken legislative approaches to reduce trans fats intakes. However, the papers stress that their situations are extremely different, and therefore should not dictate UK policy. US average intakes of trans fats are more than 2.5 times the UK, putting Americans at a greater risk of CHD. Meanwhile in Denmark in 2000, very high levels of trans fats were identified in popular foods, forcing it to take definite action. Hunt said: "The FSA report on trans fats underlines what the food and drink manufacturing industry has always said: that we have been working hard to reduce trans fats in food products, and as a result this is not an issue for the UK consumer." ​An industry breakdown showed the average trans fats amounts in different sectors.

  • Margarine and fat spreads contain less that 1g per 100g.

  • Biscuits, cakes and pastries contain less than 1g per 100g.

  • Ice cream contains 0.2g per 100g.

  • Crisps and savoury snacks contain less that 0.35g per 100g.

  • Chips and processed potatoes contain less than 2g per 100g.

  • Confectionery products contain no more than 1g per 100g.

A survey carried out by the Food and Drink Federation this summer showed that the UK food industry has committed itself to much food reformulation in the fight for improved health and against obesity. Results showed that the recipes for at least £15bn (€21.5bn) worth of foods have less fat, sugar and salt, compared with 2004. In addition, a further £11.5bn (€16.5bn) worth of products that are lower in these ingredients have been launched.

Related topics: Market Trends, Fats & oils

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