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Food watchdog rules out trans fat ban

Food Standards Agency says industry has cut levels

Consumer's need to know what's in their food

A New York-style ban on trans fats in food is not needed in the UK because consumption rates are already very low, the official food watchdog has said.

The Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) board yesterday ruled out mandatory restrictions after reviewing evidence about trans fats in the UK.

It will advise ministers that voluntary measures by the food industry have already cut trans fat consumption, making further curbs unnecessary.

Trans fats

Trans fats make up just 1% of food energy for the average UK consumer – half the recommended maximum intake.

But saturated fat consumption is about 13.3% of food energy per person compared with the recommended maximum of 11%.

The FSA’s board said working with the food industry to reduce saturated fat levels in food was its priority, alongside continued monitoring of trans fat consumption.

Positive response

FSA chairwoman Dame Deirdre Hutton said: ‘I’m delighted that industry has responded so positively to this issue and I think this decision provides a springboard for our future work on salt and saturated fat.’

Saturated fat is a major contributor to heart disease which is the leading cause of premature death in the UK.

Trans fatty acids – known as trans fats – have been linked to increased risk of coronary heart disease. 

Unsaturated fat

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.

New York curbs

In New York, restrictions are being brought in because trans fats were found to make up about 2.6% of food energy intake there – far higher than in the UK.

The Big Apple was last year named the first city in America to ban artificial trans fats at restaurants – from the corner pizzeria to high-end bakeries.

Denmark also brought in legislation to cut trans fats after high levels were found in some popular Danish foods.

Health Secretary Alan Johnson asked the FSA in October to review whether mandatory curbs on trans fats were needed in the UK.

Industry ‘reformulating’

The FSA will make its official recommendations to ministers later this month. The Department of Health will then have the final say on whether new curbs are required.

Julian Hunt, director of communications at the Food and Drink Federation, which represents manufacturers, said: ‘We have been saying for some time that the industry has been working hard over a number of years to dramatically reduce trans fats in foods, responding to consumer concerns.

‘As the FSA’s detailed research makes clear, we are leading the world when it comes to reformulating out trans fats.’

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