Cargill becomes ‘first’ oils supplier to commit to WHO trans-fat guidance globally: 'It is viable to proactively transition away from iTFAs, regardless of regulation'

By Katy Askew contact

- Last updated on GMT

Cargill to be trans-fat-free by 2023 / Pic: GettyImages Mizina
Cargill to be trans-fat-free by 2023 / Pic: GettyImages Mizina

Related tags: Trans fat, Trans fatty acids, Cargill

Cargill claims to be the ‘first’ global edible oil supplier to commit to World Health Organization recommendations on trans-fatty acids across its entire fats and oils portfolio, including in countries where there is no legislative requirement to do so.

The company has said that the edible oils it supplies will be in line with the WHO recommended standard of a maximum two grams of industrially produced trans-fatty acids (iTFA) per 100 grams by the end of 2023. 

Announcing the move, Cargill noted that over the last 25 years it has removed an estimated one billion pounds of iTFAs from the global food supply, with approximately 89% of its global edible oils portfolio already meeting the WHO’s iTFA best practice.

To bring all its fats and oils in line with WHO recommendations, the company is reformulating its global portfolio as well as ‘significantly’ investing in upgrades and processing changes at several oil manufacturing facilities. Investments will total in the region of US$8m, FoodNavigator was told. 

“Even as the world continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, we know that worldwide, improving nutrition remains a top concern,”​ said David Webster, leader of Cargill’s food ingredients and bioindustrial enterprise and chief risk officer.

“This commitment aligns with our purpose to nourish the world in a safe, responsible and sustainable way and gives us the opportunity as a collective industry to remove iTFAs from the global food supply no matter where food is manufactured or consumed. We know this effort will take time, and we are eager to work with customers as they take this important step.”

Cargill innovation work targets iTFAs

Consumption of industrially produced trans fats has been linked to around 500,000 deaths per year due to coronary heart disease. The WHO has set an ambition for the world to be trans-fat free by 2023.

Industrially produced trans-fats are contained in hardened vegetable fats, such as margarine and ghee. They are primarily formed through the partial hydrogenation of vegetable oils but can also result from high thermal treatment during the refining process. Trans-fats can be found in snack food, baked foods, and fried foods and manufacturers sometimes use them as they have a longer shelf life and are cheaper than other fats.

The commitment from Cargill builds on ‘decades of innovation’ to address iTFAs, the company said, pointing to ‘significant advances’ toward reformulating alternatives to products that contain iTFAs without ‘discernibly changing’ the taste or texture of food. 

“These innovations demonstrate that it is not only feasible to meet the WHO best practice on iTFAs, but it can be done without discernibly changing the taste or texture of consumers’ favourite foods,”​ Jennifer Shomenta, president of the group’s edible oils unit, said.

Shomenta told FoodNavigator that through its portfolio of solutions Cargill hopes to help customers produce iTFA-free products that are also cost competitive. "Cargill is committed to working with each customer to find the solution that works best for them, taking into consideration a number of factors, including cost, performance, shelf-life, mouth feel and taste, among others. We currently offer PHO (partially hydrogenated oil) replacement products that cover a wide range of functionalities in every geography we service. And we are continually developing new offerings to meet desired specifications. This expertise and experience will allow us to work with customers to find the most cost-effective alternatives for their specific needs,"​ she said.

Shomenta noted Cargill's innovation teams have developed 'a variety of alternative solutions that are effective at replacing partially hydrogenated oils'. Ingredient solutions include oils low in saturates and high in monosaturates, such as high oleic canola oil; blends of liquid and non-hydrogenated hard stocks; and interesterified oils. 

Cargill food scientists work to develop iTFA-free fats and oils
Cargill food scientists work to develop iTFA-free fats and oils / Pic: Cargill

Industry aligning around WHO guidance, regardless of regulation

According to the WHO’s most recent progress report​, 58 countries had introduced laws protecting more than 3bn people from industrially produced trans fats at the end of 2021. However, more than 100 countries have not taken action to eliminate trans fats from their national food supplies. The WHO’s REPLACE initiative​ provides a guide for governments and industry to implement a best practice on iTFA in the global food supply chain. 

Cargill's announcement sees the ingredient supplier join many of the world’s largest food companies and members of the International Food and Beverage Alliance (IFBA) who have committed to the WHO goal​. 

The commitment was welcomed by finished brand manufacturer and Cargill customer PepsiCo.

“We are thrilled to see Cargill’s commitment to reduce industrially produced trans fats (iTFAs) in all of their oils, in service of the World Health Organization’s goal to phase iTFAs out of the food supply,”​ said René Lammers, Executive Vice President and Chief Science Officer, PepsiCo. “This move aligns with PepsiCo’s efforts to reduce iTFAs in our foods and is a crucial part of our pep+ journey​ to evolve our food and beverage portfolio to be better for the planet and people. Cargill is an important part of our supply chain and we look forward to working together to continue to accelerate progress toward our iTFA goals​.”

To further support the WHO’s efforts, Cargill revealed it will undertake engagement efforts with targeted regional and national stakeholders, such as governments and oil industry federations, to support industry-wide reformulations particularly in countries where legislation is not yet in place.

Shomenta stressed it will be 'essential' to 'secure broad support among different constituencies' - including international and domestic companies, food industry organisations and other ingredient suppliers - to meet the WHO's 2023 target. The multinational also hopes to support small- and medium-sized businesses transition away from iTFAs. 

"Cargill stands ready to play its part in this context. We think our commitment signals to others in the industry that it is viable to proactively transition away from iTFAs, regardless of regulation. And we believe it demonstrates to customers Cargill’s willingness to serve as a trusted partner to innovate with them in areas of concern to them and their consumers,"​ she told this publication. 

"In countries where legislation will not enter into force in the short term, we will work with targeted national stakeholders, such as government and industry to encourage the whole industry to reformulate and meet the WHO best practices ahead of regulatory timeline.

"In addition, Cargill will continue to share its expertise on iTFA with small and medium sized food manufacturers across the globe. As part of our membership of the Scaling up Nutrition (SUN) Business Network, we can support SME members of SBN around the world to improve their product portfolios through reformulation and improvement of food safety.

"We recognize this transition will take time and we want to apply our breadth of innovation and learning to our customers ahead of any potential regulatory action and in response to increasing public health concerns."

This approach reflects Cargill's belief that 'no one company can do this alone'. The company hopes to leverage its experience and technical know-how to support the phasing out of trans-fats at an industry level. 

"Cargill has gained over 25 years of experience helping food manufacturers remove iTFAs from their formulations. That insight and knowledge will be a tremendous asset to our customers as we make this transition together. But no one company can do this alone. We hope this step will help encourage change at an industry-wide level regardless of operational scale or geography. We believe that it is important that this effort to meet the WHO’s best practice is extended to the entire global food supply,"​ Shomenta said. 

"We also hope that it demonstrates to customers Cargill’s willingness to serve as a trusted partner to innovate with them in areas of concern to them and their consumers."

WHO best practice recommendations

WHO recommends that trans fat intake be limited to less than 1% of total energy intake, which translates to less than 2.2 g/day with a 2,000-calorie diet.

To achieve a world free of industrially produced trans fats by 2023, WHO recommends that countries:

  • develop and implement best-practice policies to set mandatory limits for industrially produced trans fats to 2% of oils and fats in all foods or to ban partially hydrogenated oils (PHO);
  • invest in monitoring mechanisms, e.g. lab capacity to measure and monitor trans fats in foods; and
  • advocate for regional or sub-regional regulations to expand the benefits of trans fat policies.

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