UK food retailers 'committed to removing trans fats'

By Anthony Fletcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Trans fats Nutrition

A voluntary commitment by British Retail Consortium (BRC) members
to eliminate industrially added trans-fats represents a major
change of gear in the battle to make processed food products

The BRC, which said that the commitment would cover all members' own brand lines, also claimed that the move would "cut through legislative impotence arising from a conflict of EU health and trade objectives."

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.

They occur naturally in some foods but are also added to items such as bakery and dairy products as a result of processes to extend shelf life and improve texture.

As part of EU efforts to tackle food-related health concerns, the European Commission wants retailers to reduce or remove them.

"But, in a contradictory move, it is now taking legal action against the government of Denmark for restricting trans-fats in food products there,"​ said the BRC in a statement.

"Despite being utterly at odds with EU healthy food objectives, European rules say the Danish move is an illegal free trade restriction because it hinders suppliers from other member states selling products containing trans-fats in Denmark."

The BRC said that food retailers, including Asda, Boots, Co-Op, Iceland, Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury's, Tesco and Waitrose, would spare the UK government the embarrassment of being unable to legislate by voluntarily pledging to remove industrially added trans-fats from all new stocks of own brand products by the end of this year, "a scale and pace of change unmatched by retailers or manufacturers anywhere else in Europe"​.

The move also fits in with the food industry's aversion to over-regulation and belief that self-regulation is the most efficient means of effecting change.

" By acting voluntarily, BRC members are showing responsible retailers can cut through to achieve major change faster than any legislation,"​ said Andrew Opie, BRC food policy director.

The move has been welcomed by legislators. An Early Day Motion in the House of Commons today said that " this house congratulates Asda, Boots, Co-Op, Iceland, Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury, Tesco and Waitrose for removing industrially created trans-fats from their own brand lines; recognises that this move will help UK consumers choose a healthy, balanced diet and is encouraged to see UK retailers taking such significant steps to help reduce the risk of coronary heart disease in the UK."

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

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