Thursday, October 28, 2010


Late realization that trans fats that may be present in foods can pose serious health problems led to mandatory declaration of its concentration in the nutritional labels of packed foods in many countries including India. How ever no upper limits were evolved though voluntary reduction targets were proposed. One of the major culprits that is responsible for elevated levels of trans fats in processed foods is hydrogenated fats used by the frying and bakery industries to obtain longer shelf life for the end products. Why there is no ban on the manufacture of hydrogenated fats, known in India as Vanaspati is not known. Probably production of solid fats through technologies other than hydrogenation may be responsible for not banning Vanaspati. Fractionation and inter-esterification processes can yield solid fats acceptable to the food industry, not containing any trans fats. Canadian health authorities seem to be impatient with the food industry there because a significant segment of the industry has not complied with the voluntary reduction targets agreed earlier and are contemplating imposing mandatory limits for trans fats in foods.

"Trans fats occur naturally in some foods but are also manufactured and added to many baked and fried foods to maintain the smell and taste characteristics of the product, and prolong its shelf life. High amounts of trans fats are known to cause certain health risks including an increased chance of cardiovascular disease and in 2006, L'Abbe's group issued a report setting trans fat reduction targets. The federal government accepted the recommendations and in 2007 asked the food industry to limit the trans fat content of vegetable oils and soft margarines to two per cent of the total fat content and in other foods, limit the trans fat content to five per cent of the total fat content. The federal government said the food industry would have two years to phase in the targets and after that, Health Canada would make the reduction targets mandatory. Those two years were up in June 2009, yet there are still no mandatory regulations. Health Canada has monitored the food industry's progress in reducing trans fats and in its final report, in December 2009, it said many food manufacturers and restaurants have successfully met the targets, but there are still some sectors that have failed to achieve them, as L'Abbe noted. According to the report, some bakery products, desserts and cookies remain high in trans fat. Previously the food industry could have argued that trans fats were required to maintain the "functional properties" of their product, but the report said now there are plenty of alternative ingredients available".

It is not realized that government regulations are always unpalatable, fraught with logistical difficulties and inconveniences for the industry and if the voluntary reduction targets were met government would not have to step in to enforce the limits. Now that mandatory limits are going to be imposed, those not complying with them will have very little time to develop alternative fats suitable for maintaining their product characteristics and quality. Already bakery products are loaded with saturated fats, sugar and high calories and there is every justification for the safety agencies to intervene in the interests of the consumer, viz making the products less obesogenic and unhealthy.


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