The resolution was passed late last night at a plenary session in Strasbourg by 586 votes to 19, with 38 abstentions. Industry association FoodDrinkEurope (FDE) has backed a 2% EU-wide limit on industrial trans fats in food as a percentage of total fats in any food product.
The biggest source of artificial trans fats in the food supply is partially hydrogenated oil, favoured by industry for its stability and shelf life, and used in bakery and fried foods among others.
Trans fats have been linked to cardiovascular diseases, which is the leading cause of death in the EU. According to the European Heart Network (EHN) for every 2% energy of TFA consumption, the risk of heart attack or death from heart disease increases by about 25%. This is more than any other macronutrient when compared on a per-calorie basis.
Impact assessment to finally start
MEPs have become increasingly frustrated by a lack of progress from the Commission on the issue, and Commissioner for health and food safety Vytenis Andruikaitis sought to reassure MEPs about its delayed response.
“I’m sure you would criticise the Commission if it proposed an initiative without looking at its impact. […] But please be reassured that the impact assessment will now finally start,” he said.
“The Commission has already undertaken a first analysis of policy options, and one of the options is a limit on industrial trans fats. Other options under consideration are mandatory labelling on partially hydrogenated oils and self-regulatory instruments."
But MEPs drew attention to the fact that the Commission itself recognises only 1-in-3 consumers in the EU is aware about trans fats, and therefore labelling measures would not be sufficient.
EHN Director Susanne Løgstrup urged the Commission to “undertake a ‘light-version’ impact assessment to speed up the process”.
Andruikaitis also said the Commission was assessing whether a turn away from industrial trans fats could push manufacturers to use alternatives that are less environmentally sustainable.
Trans fats occur naturally in small amounts in meat and dairy products, but it is industrially-produced (or artificial) trans fats that are seen as a danger to public health.
In 2003, Denmark became the first EU nation to limit the content of artificial trans fats in food. Since then, Austria, Hungary and Latvia have followed with caps while Bulgaria, Malta, Slovakia, the UK and Finland have national dietary recommendations on trans fats.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) revoked their generally recognised as safe (GRAS) status last year and they will no longer be permitted in the US by 2018.