The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) revoked the GRAS (generally recognised as safe) status of partially hydrogenated oils last month, in an effort to rid the US food supply of artificial trans fats.
Made by adding hydrogen to vegetable oils, partial hydrogenation makes liquid oils solid at room temperature, and improves their shelf life and stability in processing. However, it also creates trans fats, which have been shown to increase the risk of heart disease.
The ECS, which represents more than 85,000 cardiology specialists, said it welcomed the FDA’s decision and called on European policymakers “to urgently bring forward EU-wide regulation to address this important health issue”.
Although health concerns about trans fatty acids (TFA) have led to voluntary reductions among food manufacturers in Western Europe, virtually eliminating artificial trans fats, high levels of trans fats are still common among products available in many Eastern European countries, as well as in ethnic shops in Western European countries.
“Based on the effects on cardiovascular health of TFA intake; the positive experiences from different interventions to limit TFA intake and the accumulated knowledge on differential consumption of TFAs across Europe, the European Society of Cardiology believes that a regulatory intervention is necessary to ensure that all EU citizens can effectively reduce their TFA intake,” the ECS said in a statement.
The FDA has given manufacturers three years to phase out trans fats in processed foods, a move the ECS says would prevent thousands of fatal heart attacks every year in the US and reduce cardiovascular disease.
According to its figures, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in Europe, responsible for 40% of deaths in the European Union. To date, only three EU Member States – Austria, Denmark and Hungary – have adopted legislation to restrict industrially produced trans fats in the food chain.
There have been repeated recommendations for a European trans fat ban since 2008, when the European Parliament published a study urging a ban on artificial TFAs at EU level. In 2009, the World Health Organization (WHO) concluded that the information available was sufficient to recommend virtually eliminating industrially produced TFAs from the food supply. And last year, the WHO called for a complete ban on trans fats throughout Europe as part of a new action plan on diet and health, “European Food and Nutrition Action Plan 2015-2020”.
The European Commission was due to publish a report on trans fats and their effects on health back in December.