If the draft regulation is approved, food operators will have until 1 April 2021 to ensure their products comply.
It has invited stakeholders to submit their comments over a four-week period. To submit feedback, click here.
The biggest source of industrially produced trans-fats is from partially hydrogenated oils that are used in hardened vegetable fats, such as margarine, and often in snacks, baked and fried foods. Manufacturers use them as they have a longer shelf life than other fats. Fully hydrogenated oils do not present the same health risks.
Trans-fatty acids can also occur naturally in small amounts in meat and dairy products from ruminant animals, such as cattle, sheep and goats. The Commission's proposal does not cover these naturally occurring fats.
Limits were expected
The Commission's announcement does not come as a surprise. A source at the Commission told FoodNavigator in June this year that, given the success of a ban in certain member states as well as a favourable opinion among the general public and major manufacturers, “a consensus on legal limits was likely”.
Calls for a trans fat ban in Europe have come from consumer interest and public health groups as well as manufacturers, such as Nestlé and Unilever, that asked the EU to create a level playing field within the industry.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published guidance in June 2018, advising the Commission that, based on the available scientific evidence, dietary intakes of trans fatty acids should be “as low as possible”.
Emma Calvert, food policy officer at European Consumer Organisation BEUC, welcomed the news. “Consumer groups have pushed for a legislative limit for this unhealthy substance for many years. It is the most effective means to lower consumption for all consumers, no matter where they live in Europe.
She added: “We regret however the long transition period granted until April 2021. National limits have existed for over 15 years in some countries with proven effects and little disruption to industry.”
Earlier this year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) called on governments around the world to remove industrially produced trans-fatty acids from the food supply by 2023. According to WHO estimates, more than 500,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease each year are attributable to trans fat intake.
In 2003, Denmark capped industrial trans fats at 2% and has seen levels of cardiovascular disease fall since, prompting the Danish minister for the environment and food, Jakob Ellemann-Jensen, to call on the Commission to follow suit. “The European Commission should be inspired by our good example," he said earlier this year.
In 2015, the US Food and Drug Administration revoked the Generally Recognised As Safe (GRAS) status of industrial trans fats and gave manufacturers a three-year grace period before a complete ban on partially hydrogenated oils entered into force.