New curbs on trans fats in foods will be considered by the UK’s official food watchdog.
The Food Standards Agency’s board is reviewing its advice to the government on the health impact of trans fats – and whether mandatory restrictions are needed.
It follows regulatory action taken in Denmark and New York to restrict the trans fat content of foods there.
Trans fat consumption
But similar laws may not be necessary in the UK because average trans fat consumption is already below the recommended maximum, according to papers for an FSA Board meeting published yesterday.
Trans fatty acids – known as trans fats – have been linked to increased risk of coronary heart disease.
The FSA Board will consider whether to maintain the UK’s current voluntary approach to trans fat reduction or to recommend new, mandatory restrictions on trans fats in foods. It is expected to agree its recommendations to Health Ministers at an open board meeting on Thursday.
The trans fats review was requested by Health Secretary Alan Johnson last month.
According to the board papers, current trans fat intakes in the UK make up around 1% of food energy – half the maximum recommended level.
‘Current average dietary intakes of trans fats for UK consumers are not therefore a cause for concern, as they are half the maximum recommended level at 1% of food energy. This is an upper estimate and actual intakes are likely to be lower,’ the board papers say.
Food Standards Agency officials are advising the board that the UK food industry has already voluntarily cut the trans fat content of foods.
‘Legislation would be unlikely to deliver any significant consumer benefit,’ the FSA said in a statement.
In New York, restrictions were brought in because trans fats made up around 2.6% of food energy intake there – far higher than in the UK, the papers add.
Denmark brought in legislative action to cut trans fats in 2003 because high levels were found in some popular Danish foods.
Levels of artificial trans fats in UK food production have declined ‘dramatically’ in recent years.
Trans fats in vegetable oils are now at the lowest achievable level of less than 1%, the board papers say.
The main drawback with removing artificial trans fats from foods are that saturated fat levels could increase.
Average saturated fat intakes need to be reduced from the current 13.3% of food energy to 11% of food energy, according to the FSA.
‘Early progress with the food industry to reduce saturated fat levels in foods, without increasing trans fat levels, should therefore be the priority,’ the board papers recommend.
The papers say trans fats have a ‘moderate effect’ on the risk of coronary heart disease but cite insufficient evidence about their effect on diabetes, obesity and cancer.
Trans fats are a type of unsaturated fat produced when liquid vegetable oils are turned into solid fats through hydrogenation.
Partially hydrogenated vegetable oils are used in some manufactured biscuits, cakes, fast food and margarines. A small proportion of trans fats also occur naturally in some meat and dairy products.
The FSA currently advises consumers on which products contain trans fats and how to reduce their intake.
It also promotes voluntary action by the food industry to reduce trans fats without increasing saturated fat levels.
The FSA is lobbying for trans fats to be labelled on foods as part of new Europe-wide labelling proposals expected early next year.
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