FSA supports voluntary action in limiting trans fats

By Laura Crowley

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Trans fats Nutrition

The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) will recommend to health
ministers a continuation of a voluntary approach in reducing trans
fatty acids in food, following its board meeting yesterday.

Opinion was gathered using findings from the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) after UK health secretary Alan Johnson asked the FSA for its urgent advice on trans fats back in October. The FSA based its decision on evidence that voluntary industry action has so far proved a success in cutting trans fat levels dramatically. The estimated UK average intake is now 1 per cent of food energy, half the maximum levels advised by the SACN. 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 SACN, while trans fats have been associated with raised serum levels and coronary heart disease, there is insufficient evidence regarding a connection with other diseases such as diabetes, obesity and cancer. "The voluntary reduction of trans fats is a great illustration of a regulator and industry working together for the benefit of public health,"​ said FSA chair, Dame Deidre Hutton. "I'm delighted that industry has responded so positively to this issue and I think this decision provide a springboard for our future work on salt and saturated fat." ​If the government still decides that action should extend beyond current initiatives, it would have a huge impact on the food industry, requiring massive food reformulation. Concerns have been expressed that such reformulation should not increase saturated fat levels in food, which are also associated with an increased risk of heart disease. According to the FSA, saturated fat poses a far greater health risk for the UK population than trans fat because people consumer around 13.3 per cent of it. This is well above the recommended level of 11 per cent. The board therefore recommended that alongside continued monitoring of consumer intakes of trans fats, the Agency's priority should be to work with industry to step up its reformulation of foods to reduce saturated fat levels. The Agency will also continue to encourage consumers to choose a diet that is low in saturated fat. Introducing legislation would impact on European trade. Owen Warnock, senior partner and food law expert at Eversheds, told FoodNavigator.com: "If only there were more occasions when the answer on such an issue such as this was regulation is not necessary. "Such regulations would have an impact on free trade between the member states of the European Union, since manufacturers in other countries might have to reformulate in order to meetUKstandards." ​ The FSA will make its recommendation to the secretary of state by 19 December and the department of health will make the final decision as to whether further legislation is required. Commenting on the decisions, Julian Hunt director of communications at the Food and Drink Federation said "We have been saying for some time that the industry has been working hard over a number of years to dramatically reduce trans fats in foods, responding to consumer concerns. "It's a pity that FSA has been sidetracked from other important work to complete this inquiry. However, we can take comfort from the fact that we now have robust, independent evidence to provide real clarity about how much has been achieved, and the positive impact our work is having on public health. ​ New York and Denmark have taken legislative approaches to reduce trans fats intakes. However, papers released for the meeting stressed 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.

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