The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) has claimed that hundreds of well-known household names, including Hula Hoops, Mars Bars, Nestle Cheerios and Weetabix, have been redesigned to take into account growing health concerns.
"The industry is committed to reducing the level of trans fats to as low as is technically possible and has been actively reducing these levels," said FDF communications director Julian Hunt.
"Many companies through reformulating their products have managed to dramatically reduce the levels over the past two years. This is fully in line with manufacturers' commitment through FDF's Food and Health Manifesto to reduce levels of fats."
Trans fats, which are mainly found in partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, common ingredients in thousands of food products, have been negatively linked to raising blood cholesterol levels and promoting heart disease.
Research shows that when too much 'bad' cholesterol circulates in the blood, it can slowly build up in the inner walls of the arteries that feed the heart and brain resulting in atherosclerosis.
According to the Oxford University researchers, a recent analysis of all the evidence recommended that people should reduce or stop their dietary intake of trans fatty acids to minimise the related risk of coronary heart disease.
The European food industry is obviously concerned about the negative publicity such findings can generate. The pre-emptive reformulation of products is therefore something the food industry wants to push, as Hunt implicitly acknowledges.
"While manufacturers are cutting levels of trans fats, we want to dispel the myth that this is a major problem for the UK," he said. "Trans fats appear in only a relatively small number of products, in fact, government statistics shows how they make up only 1.2 per cent of total energy intake."
Hunt also emphasised that trans fats are produced as by-products of partial hydrogenation, and should not be confused with the term 'hydrogenated fat' on food labels.
There has been growing pressure for the whole of Europe to follow Denmark's example and force food makers to clearly label the presence of trans fats. The UK Food Standards Agency for example is now pressing for revision of the European directive that governs the content and format of nutrition labels on foods marketed in the United Kingdom and other European countries, so that these fats are labelled.
Trans fat action taken by UK food makers
Kelloggs claimed that their breakfast cereals do not contain any hydrogenated vegetable oil and can be considered virtually free of trans fats. Kelloggs UK has been working to remove hydrogenated vegetable oils from a number of snack products that currently contain them.
Masterfoods said it has reduced the trans fatty acid (TFA) levels in its snackfoods to a minimum by controlling the oils and fats used. This started with the Mars bar and Snickers, and has now been extended across a range of brands.
Margarine and Spreads Association (MSA)
Dairy Crest, Kerry Foods and Unilever UK Foods branded retail fat spreads now contain a TFA level below one per cent, according to the MSA.
Nestle UK has an ongoing reformulation programme across its portfolio of 66 retail product groups to reduce and, where feasible, remove TFAs from its recipes.
RHM has reduced levels of trans fats where present across its portfolio. RHM said it is actively working to remove hydrogenated vegetable oils, leading with the Mr Kipling, Cadbury cake and Lyons brands.
Unilever said it would eliminate 15,000 tons of trans-fats from its portfolio by 2006.
United Biscuits has removed partially hydrogenated vegetable oil from its McVitie's, KP and Jacob's ranges. The firm said its snacks are baked or fried in non-hydrogenated vegetable oils.
Weetabix has eliminated all hydrogenated oils and fats from its brands and this policy will apply to NPD.