Written Q&A to EU Commission – Joint answer on trans fatty acids

In this answer to four written questions by MEPs (click the highlighted numbers to open them), Mr. Borg analyses the state of the art in EU about trans fatty acids.

In US the issue is at the top of the FDA agenda.

FDA has made a preliminary determination that partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), the major dietary source of trans fat in the processed food supply, are no longer Generally Recognized as Safe, or GRAS. If FDA makes a final determination that partially hydrogenated oils are not GRAS, a company could not use PHOs in food without approval from the FDA, although it may take some time for the change to be fully implemented.

FDA made this preliminary determination because trans fats have significant adverse health effects. Scientific evidence has shown that consumption of trans fat raises low density lipoprotein (LDL-C or “bad) cholesterol, which increases the risk of developing heart disease. Trans fat may also have other adverse health effects, including lowering high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C). Considering only the effects of trans fat from partially hydrogenated oils on levels of LDL-C, “bad” cholesterol, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that eliminating intake of trans fat from partially hydrogenated oils could prevent up to 20,000 cases of coronary heart disease (CHD) and up to 7,000 deaths annually.

The trans fat found in foods can either be natural or artificial. Naturally occuring trans fat is produced in the gut of some grazing animals, and that is why small quantities can be found in animal-based foods such as milk, milk products, and certain meats. FDA’s action would not affect these foods.

Artificial trans fat is formed during food processing through hydrogenation of vegetable oils.

Joint answer given by Mr Borg on behalf of the Commission (20 December 2013) – Written questions: E-012709/13, E-012853/13, E-012895/13, E-012777/13

Based on requests of the Commission, the European Food Safety Authority adopted two Scientific Opinions, one on the presence of trans fatty acids in foods and their effect on human health and one on Dietary Reference Values for fats, including trans fatty acids.

The Commission is aware that the consumption of trans fatty acids is, along with saturated fat and overall fat intake, known to be a risk factor for the development of cardiovascular disease.

Article 30(7) of Regulation (EU) No 1169/20011 of the European Parliament and of the Council on the provision of food information to consumers requires the Commission to submit by 13 December 2014 ‘a report on the presence of trans fats in foods and in the overall diet of the Union population. The aim of the report shall be to assess the impact of appropriate means that could enable consumers to make healthier food and overall dietary choices or that could promote the provision of healthier food options to consumers, including, among others, the provision of information on trans fats to consumers or restrictions on their use.’ The Commission is also asked to accompany this report with a legislative proposal, if appropriate. This report will address the issue of consumers’ perception of trans fatty acids.

Currently, Denmark, Austria and Hungary have notified national measures limiting the presence of trans fatty acids of non-ruminant origin in foods.

Further, it should be noted that the Commission is encouraging self-regulatory action in order to further decrease the content of trans fatty acids in food products. There are commitments in the EU Platform for Action on Diet, Physical Activity and Health that concern the reformulation of products to reduce the content of trans fatty acids.