Earlier this month four major international food companies – Mars, Kellogg’s, Mondelēz and Nestlé – and several health NGOs including the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA), the European Heart Network (EHN) and the European Consumer Rights Organisation (BEUC) sent an open letter to the European Commission asking it to legislate and limit trans fats originating from partially hydrogenated oils to 2 g per 100 g of fat.
But if artificial trans fats are so bad then why stop at a 2% cap when an outright ban of their main source – partially hydrogenated oils – would protect consumers even more?
In Europe, Latvia, Denmark, Austria and Hungary as well as non-EU countries Switzerland, Iceland and Norway have set a 2% limit.
Latvia, the latest European country to legislate, said it decided to cap the permitted amount as this seemed to be standard procedure in Europe – but it says a ban would have been preferable.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health told FoodNavigator: “Considering the health [issues], the Ministry of Health would be interested in not just reducing, but banning industrially produced TFA in food products. However, since currently there are no bans on the TFA in other EU member states and European region countries, Latvia has chosen to set the 2% limit of TFA.
“[This limit] does not restrict or discourage manufacturers to produce food products with lower amounts or even without any TFA [and] already now there are Latvian food companies that take great pride in pointing out that their food products are free of TFA.”
However, she added that there is no guarantee some companies may not decide to introduce TFA levels up to 2% into their products.
But director general of European vegetable oil group FEDIOL, Nathalie Lecocq, said a ban is unnecessary.
“The fact that EFSA acknowledged in 2004 that TFA levels ‘are close to 1 to 2%’ should prove that our industry addressed the problem effectively. The trend in the decrease of TFA levels in Europe has been rather constant and substantial over the past 20 years and there is no reason to believe that the trend would be inverted,” she said.
Ban the label fully/partially?
Meanwhile, IMACE, the European margarine association, is campaigning for a different kind of legislation from the European Commission – it wants the requirement that hydrogenated oils are labelled as either partially or fully hydrogenated to be removed on the grounds that the distinction does not bring any added value to consumers.
A spokesperson for IMACE told FoodNavigator: “Indeed, it is shown that it misleads consumers as they do not understand and confuse both terms, making them think that a product labelled as ‘fully hydrogenated’ contains substantially more TFA as compared to ‘partially hydrogenated’ products, while it actually does not contain any TFA at all.”
But if this is the case then surely more education in informing the public on the difference on fully and partially hydrogenated fats would be preferable – would removing requirement to specify whether an oil is partially or fully hydrogenated merely reduce consumers’ ability to monitor what they are eating?
Since trans fats can naturally occur in oils, checking whether a product contains partially hydrogenated oils is the only way consumers can keep track of trans fat levels. In the US, this is the FDA advice given to consumers – read the label.
The European Commission is due to produce a much awaited and already overdue report on artificial trans fats.