Its report, ‘Regarding trans fats in foods and in the overall diet of the [European] Union population’, which has been published a year later than expected, has come out in favour of the principle of a limit, but said further work was needed to determine what that limit should be.
It said that a limit for trans fats would be “the most effective measure in terms of public health, consumer protection and compatibility with the [EU’s] internal market”.
Trans fats are unsaturated fatty acids that come from meat and dairy products of animals, including beef and sheep, and can be produced industrially. The US Department of Agriculture estimates that sausages contain 4.85% trans fats, while beef and chicken contain 4.25% and 1.15% respectively.
The Commission is concerned at the links between trans fats and coronary heart disease in the EU.
Norman Bagley, a spokesperson for the UK-based Association of Independent Meat Suppliers, said the report was a new departure. “We obviously follow EU regulatory matters with great interest, and this is the first time they have come out with anything that might affect our members at primary level in the area of trans fats.
“We will look closely at the report and its findings but until they set a limit, it is difficult for us to comment further. We will of course co-operate and take part in the discussions about what the limit should be with regard to our members’ interest and our desire to assist in protecting public health.”
Trans fats analysed
Compiled at the request of the European Parliament, the report analysed the foods containing the highest levels of trans fats and assessed limits that exist in different countries. For instance, Denmark, Latvia, Austria, and Hungary already limit trans fats in food to 2% of fat content.
It added: “The effectiveness of voluntary approaches to food reformulation could be limited as it would clearly depend on the scope of industry participation and the coverage of food products on the market.”
While the report did not suggest a limit, it noted that the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended a limit of 1% of a person’s daily diet.
Other possible actions the Commission will now consider will be food labelling, voluntary agreements and EU guidance to member states on setting national limits. Another possibility would be to leave it to individual countries to encourage voluntary trans fat reduction schemes.
Trans fat ban 'effective'
Other parts of the world already ban trans fats, which the WHO claimed was a more effective means of reduction than voluntary arrangements. For example, the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) gave food manufacturers three years to remove partially hydrogenated oils – the main dietary source of industrial trans fats – from products unless they are specifically approved by the administration, according to a June FDA communiqué.
Trans fat use is already reducing across Europe and most countries consume levels of trans fats below the WHO recommended limit – but they persist in southern and central regions of the continent and within poorer sections of society, said the report.
EU health and food safety commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis is known to be in favour of legally phasing out trans fats. The Commission will now consult on the report’s proposals.