Food Makers Vow to Cut Trans Fats Globally

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The United Nations agency has in the past pushed to exterminate infectious diseases, but now it's aiming to erase a hazard linked to chronic illness.

Fear not, the move towards eliminating trans fats doesn't mean you'll have to kiss your precious Oreos goodbye.

Trans fats are popular with manufacturers of fried, baked and snack foods because they have a long shelf life, but they are bad for consumers, increasing the risk of heart disease by 21 per cent and deaths by 28 per cent, a World Health Organization statement said.

Partially hydrogenated oils were first introduced into the food supply in the early 20 century as a replacement for butter, and became more popular in the 1950s through 1970s with the discovery of the negative health impacts of saturated fatty acids.

Officials think it can be done in five years because the work is well underway in many countries. The WHO's hope is that a global campaign to eliminate trans fats everywhere will lead to better health outcomes for everyone.

Artificial trans fats are unhealthy substances that are created when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil to make it solid, like in the creation of margarine or shortening.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has released on Monday, an initiative called REPLACE that will provide guidance for all countries on how to remove artificial trans fats from their foods, possibly leading to a worldwide eradication. There are also naturally occurring trans fats in some meats and dairy products.

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Action is needed in low- and middle-income countries, where controls of use of industrially-produced trans fats are often weaker, to ensure that the benefits are felt equally around the world.

"Why should our children have such an unsafe ingredient in their foods?" asked WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. "Trans fat is an unnecessary toxic chemical that kills, and there's no reason people around the world should continue to be exposed".

"People in disadvantaged groups consume more, contributing to the extra burden of disease in disadvantaged families", he said.

In the USA, the first trans fatty food to hit the market was Crisco shortening, which went on sale in 1911.

Once upon a time, the product was pitched as being healthier than its natural alternatives.

Businesses ranging from large processed-food manufacturers to mom-and-pop restaurants and bakeries like using trans fats - usually for frying and as shortening in baked goods - because they are affordable and have a long shelf life. Trans fats increases levels of LDL-cholesterol, a well-accepted biomarker for cardiovascular disease risk, and decreases levels of HDL-cholesterol, which carry away cholesterol from arteries and transport it to the liver, that secretes it into the bile.

Moreover, it's possible to eliminate trans fats without changing the flavor of food, so even if you haven't already been eating this way, you probably won't know the difference. Moreover, the foods that still contain trans fats in the USA and Europe tend to disproportionately affect the poor, because foods containing trans fats tend to be cheaper.