Trans fats: European proposal sets limits at 2g per 100g of fat


05 Oct 2018 --- The European Commission has published its draft Commission Regulation to limit trans fats in foods, other than those naturally occurring in animal fat, sold in the EU to a maximum of 2g per 100g of fat. The move follows on from both the US and Canada introducing varying legislations that limit the potentially harmful ingredient in recent months.

There has been a global push to limit the amount of trans fats that reach consumers due to their adverse health effects, especially regarding cardiovascular health, with the US implementing a total ban on trans fats in June this year. Some EU Member States had regulations around trans fats in place, but this is the first EU wide legislation to come to the fore.

“The EU measure meets the request of the European Consumer Organization (BEUC) to limit trans fats to 2g per 100g of fat. We have been advocating for a legal limit for years. We have seen in many EU member states that it has been an approach that works – reducing levels of trans fats. We also saw in countries where these legal limits do not exist that trans fat levels are still too high. Now, there is some movement around introducing a legal limit,” Johannes Kleis, spokesperson for BEUC, tells NutritionInsight.

The text is a draft proposal: “It will go the World Trade Organization first and then to the European Parliament and EU Member States. The transition period will start after final adoption of the act by Member States and the Parliament and end in April 2021,” Kleis explains.

“The implementation of these measures would also apply to imported foods as well as reach all EU consumers, not just the ones who live in countries which have some measures in place. These are mostly Western European countries, such as Denmark,” he adds.

Although average levels of industrial trans fats in foods may have reduced in general, testing by BEUC’s member organizations and national consumer groups has shown that levels of trans fats can often remain high in some products. This is especially the case in Eastern European countries.

Testing carried out in 2013 by BEUC's member dTest – the official magazine of the Czech Association of Consumers – on margarines, for example, found that over half of the products tested contained more than 2g of trans fat per 100g of fat, with two products containing over 20g of trans fat per 100g of fat.

The Commission’s deadline to act on the issue grants a transition period until April 2021. 

The definitions of “fat” and “trans fats” must fall in line with the official EU definitions. In Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011, trans fats are defined as “fatty acids with at least one non-conjugated (namely interrupted by at least one methylene group) carbon-carbon double bond in the trans configuration.”

Trans fats around the globe
Industrially produced trans fats are contained in hardened vegetable fats, such as margarine and ghee, and are often present in snack, baked and fried foods. Manufacturers often use them as they have a longer shelf-life than other fats. However, healthier alternatives can be used that might not affect the taste or cost of food.

Click to Enlarge
Industrially produced trans fats are contained in
hardened vegetable fats, such as margarine and ghee 
and are often present in snack, baked and fried foods.

According to the American Heart Association, trans fats raise bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and lower good (HDL) cholesterol levels, increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke. They are also associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The American Heart Association recommends cutting back on foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils to reduce trans fats in the diet and preparing lean meats and poultry without added saturated and trans fats.

The EU move follows many global legislations, as well as pledges, to eliminate or reduce trans fats. 

In May, The International Food and Beverage Alliance (IFBA), which brings together 12 leading food and beverage companies, agreed to help contribute to the WHO goal of eliminating industrially produced trans fats from the global food supply by 2023. The IFBA, which includes major global players such as Kraft Heinz, Nestlé, Mondelez and Mars, were therefore committed to reducing the level of partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) in their global products in line with the WHO recommendation of no more than one gram of trans fatty acid per 100g of product by the end of 2018 at the latest.

Only last month, the beginning of Canada's ban on partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), the largest source of industrially produced trans fat in foods, came into effect. The ban was announced last year to give the industry time to adapt and came into force on September 17 with the addition of PHOs to Part 1 of Health Canada’s List of Contaminants and Other Adulterating Substances in Foods.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) enforcement strategy for the new requirement includes a two-year phase-in period during which products containing PHOs can continue to be sold, as long as they were manufactured before September 17, 2018. It comes just three months after a similar ban took effect in the US (June 18, 2018), as the transition period in the country expired.

By Laxmi Haigh

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