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Trans fat policies in India

Industrial trans fat or artificial trans fat are produced in industries by the hydrogenation process. The products made by this process are margarine, vanaspathi, vanaspathi ghee, bakery shortenings and the like. They are affordable and accessible, and food prepared using these are supposed to taste better and have a longer shelf life. Most oil manufacturers produce these products as well, for better profits.  However, consumption of food having high trans fat content causes diseases like diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases and so on.  Many countries in the world such as Denmark, Norway, Chile, Singapore, South Africa, and Ecuador have already limited the trans fat in all foods to 2% by weight. The World Health Organisation’s strategic action plan suggests reducing the level of trans fat in food supply to less than 2% by its weight by 2023.

Recognising the ill-effects of trans fat and with the aim to regulate it, Government of India notified the “Food Safety and Standards (Food Products Standards and Food Additives) Regulation, 2011” which mandated for trans fatty acids to be not more than 10% by weight in (Source: FSSR, 2011) interesterified vegetable fats, margarine, vanaspathi and bakery shortenings.

Under these regulations, standards in terms of colour and levels of moisture, fat, gluten and fortification, etc., are given for the food products such as margarine, vegetable oils, fat spreads, and dairy products, and food business operators are required to act in accordance with the benchmarks/standards given in the regulations. The regulations also mandated the labelling of trans fat.

In 2015, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) amended the regulations to reduce the trans fat limit to 5% by weight. (Source: The gazette of India)

Last year, the FSSAI released the draft of Food Safety and Standards (Food Products Standards and Food Additives) Amendment Regulations, 2019, which proposes “Food Products in which edible oils and fats are used as an ingredient shall not contain trans fatty acids of more than 2% by weight of the total oils/fats present in the product, on and from 1st January, 2022”. 

In its comments to the draft regulations, CAG, while appreciating the move, suggested that the draft regulation should apply to all fats, oils, and food and should not be limited to food products in which edible oils and fats are used as an ingredient. The regulations should apply at all levels of the food-supply chain, rather than only at the point of sale. The draft regulation should clearly state the duties and penalties for noncompliance, which should be varied for different levels of the supply chain and the compliance deadline for the 2% limit should be shifted up to 1st January 2021, the letter said. The FSSAI is yet to finalise the regulations and notify. 

It is important that the FSSAI notifies the amended regulations at the earliest and strengthens its implementation mechanisms in the states so that many lives are saved.

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