EU should follow our trans fat ban success: Denmark

By Niamh Michail

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/Fascinadora
© GettyImages/Fascinadora

Related tags Trans fat PHOs Partially hydrogenated oils Heart disease European union Denmark

Denmark's trans fat ban is a public health and food reformulation success, and should be rolled out across the EU, says the Danish government. "The European Commission should be inspired by our good example," says the minister for food.

Denmark restricted the content of industrially-produced trans fats to 2% of a product's composition in 2003, and has seen rates of heart disease fall since.

The Ministry of the Environment and Food tested 50 products - 19 Danish and 31 imported – that typically would have been made with industrial trans fats prior to the ban, such as cookies, biscuits, pastries and microwave popcorn.

The results, released this week, showed that no Danish product was over the trans fat limit while one imported product was.

Minister for environment and food Jakob Ellemann-Jensen said it was “very good​” that Danish companies were following the rules and the results showed the law worked.

“A baked fritter is not the cornerstone of a healthy, balanced diet but it should not cause more harm than necessary,"​ he said. "The Danish law ensures this so that we can enjoy them without worrying about trans fat​.”

Trans fatty acids occur naturally in small amounts in certain foods such as meat and cheese (ruminant sources) but the public health risk comes from industrial or artificial trans fats, produced by partially hydrogenating vegetable oils. Partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) are favoured by food manufacturers for their longer shelf life. 

In 2015, the US Food and Drug Administration revoked the Generally Recognised As Safe (GRAS) status of industrial trans fats, and as of Monday this week (18 June), partially hydrogenated oils are banned in the US.

Use of PHOs is not banned in Europe but has been reduced on a voluntary basis by many manufacturers, although use is higher in certain member states in Eastern Europe.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), total trans-fat intake should be limited to less than 1% of total energy intake, or less than 2.2 g per day as part of a 2,000-calorie diet.

The WHO estimates that a high intake of trans fat can increase heart disease risk by 21% and deaths by 28%.

EFSA report confirms health risk

Also this week, acting on a request from the European Commission, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published its technical report Scientific and technical assistance on trans fatty acids​.

The scientists concluded: “Data  from  controlled  intervention  studies  showed  that  consumption  of  diets  containing  TFA  has adverse effects on blood lipids that predict an increase in CHD risk compared with the consumption of diets containing cis-monounsaturated fatty acids or cis-polyunsaturated fatty acids, and that the effect was  dose-dependent. 

“Prospective cohort studies showed a consistent association between higher intakes of TFA and increased risk of CHD,” ​they write.

These studies provided “strong support” ​for the conclusion that trans fat intake has a dose-response linear effect that increases the risk of CHD compared to other fatty acids in the diet.

National governments in EU member states recommend that trans fat intake should be ‘as low as possible’, with the exceptions of France and the UK, which have maintained a limit of 2% of energy intake (E%).

Success story

Emma Calvert, food policy officer at European consumer rights organisation BEUC, which is campaigning for a pan-EU ban, said: “The fact that the vast majority of products on the Danish market were compliant with the trans fat limit in place there demonstrates that legislative mandatory targets for industrial trans fats have successful results.

“It has already been fifteen years since Denmark became the first European country to successfully set a legislative industrial trans fat limit. Since then, many others have followed suit. It is imperative therefore that the European Commission swiftly comes forward with a legislative limit on industrial trans fats to ensure that all consumers are equally protected, no matter where they live in Europe.”

Ellemann-Jensen said also called for "a common ban on excessive trans fat".

"The European Commission should be inspired by the good example and follow in our footsteps,​”​ he said.

EC impact assessment to be completed this summer

The Commission is currently conducting an impact assessment on the situation and so cannot officially communicate anything until this analysis is complete, which should be by the end of this summer.

However, a source close to the situation said that given certain member states’ national measures, public opinion that is favourable to a ban and the fact that major producers have committed to stop using artificial trans fats as an ingredient, a consensus on legal limits was likely.

In 2015, Nestle and Unilever pledged to remove trans fats from their products and called on the EU to legislate​ to create a level playing field for all manufacturers.

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