Tuesday, April 9, 2013


Realization that trans fats in foods eaten every day can be a major source of health hazard among consumers all over the world is driving many countries to come up with policies that will address this problem. Such policies vary from outright ban on the production of hydrogenated fats to prescribe maximum limits in processed foods. Declaration of trans fat content in package foods on the label which is becoming mandatory in most countries is considered to be one of most significant steps taken consciously in many countries giving an opportunity to the consumer to shun those products containing unacceptable levels of trans fats. Here is a critique on this issue which is pitchforked into international attention with WHO actively trying to evolve effective policies and programs to help its member countries.

Shauna Downs, lead author and researcher at the university's Menzies Centre for Health Policy said trans fats policies in Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, Denmark, the Netherlands, the Republic of Korea and the USA over the last two decades had proved effective in removing trans fats from the food supply. She said the study's findings were particularly relevant for low- and middle-income countries where such measures have been identified as a 'best-buy' policy for health - one that is expected to provide a high return on investment in terms of health gains."We found, for example, that a national ban in Denmark virtually eliminated trans fats from the food supply, while local bans in Canada and the USA were successful in removing trans fats from fried foods," Downs said. While some of the government policies we studied imposed voluntary self-regulation and others took mandatory measures, such as labelling, local and national bans on trans fats proved to be the most effective policies for removing trans fats. "Our findings show that these policies are not only feasible and achievable - they are also likely to improve public health." Trans fats - also known as trans fatty acids - are naturally found in dairy and meat products but are also generated by industrial processes to produce hard fats from vegetable oils. The industrially produced trans fats are also known as partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. Consumption of trans fats is associated with an increased risk of non-communicable diseases, including cardiovascular disease, such as heart disease, as well as stroke and diabetes. These partially hydrogenated vegetable oils are, however, widely used in the food industry and fast food outlets because they are cheap, have a long shelf life, are semisolid at room temperature - which makes them easier to use in baked products, and can withstand repeated heating. The World Health Organization (WHO) has called for the elimination of trans fats from the global food supply in response to the rise in the prevalence of non-communicable diseases and has identified it as a 'best-buy' public health intervention for low- and middle-income countries. This proposed policy measure was advocated in the Political Declaration of the High-level Meeting of the UN General Assembly on the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases in September 2011".

Manufacture of hydrogenated fats which are plastic in nature is slowly being faced out because of the tendency to form trans fats from unsaturated fatty acids during catalytic hydrogenation process. Alternate technologies are now available that can make plastic fats so necessary, especially in many baked products, and therefore there must be put in place a universal ban against manufacture of such fats. Against such a backdrop it is not clear why some nations including India are still dilly dallying on banning their production. If trans fats are bad for consumers in rich countries like the US and in Europe who can afford healthy foods why it is acceptable in countries like India where poverty and ill health are rampant? It is the bounden duty of any responsible government to protect its citizens from hazards posed by food industry through coercive measures if that is what it takes to discipline the industry. 


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