EU food industry tackling trans fats, says RSSL

By Anthony Fletcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Trans fat Nutrition Hydrogenation

The European food industry is tackling the issue of trans-fatty
acids (TFA) in its products, according to a UK research centre.

"More and more of our clients are asking us to help them to understand the trans-fatty acid content of their products, and to find ways of removing them where possible,"​ said Rob Griffiths, who heads the Lipids Laboratory of Reading Scientific Services Ltd (RSSL).

"The evidence of increased demand for TFA related services within RSSL is that the food industry is actively seeking ways to remove TFA."

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.

"That said, there are other types of TFA, such as conjugated TFA from animal sources that may be beneficial to health, so it is important that food producers fully understand the nature and impacts of the fats they use in their products,"​ said Griffiths.

The food industry would argue that it is in fact already taking action. Over £1.5billion worth of food products in the UK alone are being reformulated in order to eliminate harmful trans fats, according to the Food and Drink Federation (FDF).

"Many companies through reformulating their products have managed to dramatically reduce the levels over the past two years,"​ said FDF communications director Julian Hunt recently.

"This is fully in line with manufacturers' commitment through FDF's Food and Health Manifesto to reduce levels of fats."

Kelloggs for example claims that its breakfast cereals do not contain any hydrogenated vegetable oil and can be considered virtually free of trans fats. In addition, Masterfoods said it has reduced the trans fatty acid (TFA) levels in its snack foods to a minimum by controlling the oils and fats used.

Regulators are also taking action. In the US, labelling laws introduced in 2006 require the TFA content of foods to be specifically indicated.

Other countries, most recently Canada, are looking to follow the lead of Denmark, which requires TFA to constitute less than two per cent of the total oil and fat content of any product. In the UK, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) proposals for front of pack labelling will make it more obvious to consumers that they should limit their consumption of products containing high levels of TFA.

Food makers therefore face both regulatory and consumer pressure to reformulate their products. Griffiths claimed that RSSL's Lipids Laboratory, which has expertise in aspects of fat analysis and fatty acid profiling including the routine determination of TFA content, can help.

"There is no doubt that the pressure is on food producers to better understand the fats they are using and to formulate products that contain less or no TFA,"​ he said.

"Whilst the UK has not no legal limit on TFA content, it is clear that many responsible manufacturers and retailers are acting in the interests of consumers and imposing their own restrictions on the use of hydrogenated fats in their products."

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