Trans fats debate heats up

Pressure to curtail or prohibit the use of trans fats in foods continues to mount, with the World Health Organization (WHO) urging governments to ban them if labelling initiatives prove ineffective in reducing use of the cholesterol-raising oils.

Recent moves against the partially hydrogenated oils, traditionally favoured for their flavour, texture and shelf-life benefits, include a proposed trans fat ban in 20,000 New York City restaurants. Chicago and the state of New Jersey have similar plans that include giving restaurants 18 months to ensure their foods have no oils with more than 0.5g of trans fats, as well as printing calorie information on menus. Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) is reviewing trans fat use, a move that that may result in restrictions there.

The WHO, in conjunction with its food regulation group, Codex, made its position on the issue clear recently when it stated: "If the provisions for labelling of, and claims for, trans-fatty acids do not affect a marked reduction in the global availability of foods containing trans-fatty acids produced by processing of oils and by partial hydrogenation, consideration should be given to the setting of limits on the content of industrially produced trans-fatty acids in foods."

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington, DC-based consumer advocate, welcomed the WHO statement. "If implemented, the action plan would be an important step in combating the global epidemic of diet-related disease and obesity," said its director of legal affairs, Bruce Silverglade.

Denmark was the first country to ban trans fats in 2003 and restrictions have since been implemented in other countries, including Canada. Trans fats labelling on consumer packaged goods has been mandatory in the US since the beginning of 2006.

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