Artificial trans fat or trans fatty acids are the fats produced industrially by partial hydrogenation of vegetable oils like palm oil, sesame oil, groundnut oil, gingelly oil, etc. Consumption of trans fats cause non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, Alzheimers, infertility, hypertension, diabetes, and more. These trans fats are present in high percentages in vanaspathi, vanaspathi creams, vanaspathi ghee, margarines, bakery shortenings and reused cooking oils.
Food business operators often use them as they are affordable, help in increasing the shelf life of food and enhance taste. These products are largely used to make food items ranging from snacks to regular meals such as jangiri, jelabi, badusha, halwa, cakes, chips, chocolates, samosa, burger, pizza, popcorn, briyani, vadai, appalam, pongal and other fat rich foods.
In order to save lives, the World Health Organisation (WHO) stresses upon the elimination of trans fats from the global food supply with its six strategic actions in the REPLACE plan. The action package aims to reduce industrially produced trans fats to less than 2% by 2023. Denmark was the pioneer in banning industrially produced trans fats, having done so in 2003. The Danish Nutrition Council conducted a study on trans fats in the food supply chain and submitted reports on the health impacts of trans fats in Denmark. Accordingly, the Danish government brought down the trans fats limit to less than 2 percent by its weight along with penalties and fines for violators. The ’trans fat free’ logo can be used in Denmark only when the food product has 1 percent or lesser or zero trans fats by its weight. Eventually, intake of trans fat rich foods among all age groups drastically reduced as manufacturers were able to comply with the limit set by the Danish government. Death rates due to cardiovascular diseases have significantly reduced after this law came into effect in Denmark, says WHO.
In line with Denmark, a few more European countries namely, Austria, Hungary, Norway, Switzerland, Latvia, and Iceland banned trans fats in their food products. Studies conducted by the European Food Safety Authority, on the behest of the European Commission, revealed that trans fat intake increases the risk of coronary heart disease as compared to the intake of other fatty acids in diet.
Later, in 2019, the European Union adopted the regulations on trans fats where the manufacturers are required to curb the trans fat level to less than 2% in food products from 2021.
The Food Safety and Standard Authority of India (FSSAI) supports the global target of eliminating trans fats in India to less than 3% by 2021 and to less than 2% by 2022, a year ahead of WHO’s target.
CAG, in association with Global Health Advocacy Incubator (GHAI) is working on supporting and strengthening the implementation of national trans fat regulations in India with a specific focus on Tamil Nadu. CAG is actively collaborating with the Tamil Nadu Food Safety Department for this purpose. CAG had put up a stall at the Eat Right Mela organised by the state government and has been conducting several awareness programs in colleges, schools and through social media. In addition, multiple stakeholders meetings are being organised in districts to create awareness and gather support from the oil industry, food business operators, bakery owners, doctors, nutritionists, civil society organisations, food safety officials and consumers for effective implementation of the regulations. This will go a long way to saving lives. Vanaspathi and oil samples are being tested for compliance.
In FEB 2020, CAG organised a media workshop at Hotel Tamil Nadu, Madurai
Through its signature campaign, CAG is gathering support from thousands of consumers across Tamil Nadu to demand for the elimination of trans fats. Around 50 civil society organisations in the state have come together to write to the Food Safety Authority demanding for early notification of the regulations that limits trans fats content to 2% by 2022. It is high time to be aware, arise and take appropriate actions to save us from the blight of non-communicable diseases.