BREAKING NEWS – EU Commission willing to set legal limits on trans fats

The European Commission has adopted today a report on trans fats (TFA) in food and in the overall diet of Europeans. This issue is a worldwide concern as the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have notably adopted a decision last June to remove partially hydrogenated oils from foods within three years. The Commission’s preliminary report suggests that setting a legal limit for industrial TFA content would be the most effective measure in terms of public health, consumer protection and compatibility with the single market. The way in which such legal limit could be technically put into practice would require further investigation. The report notes that there are food products with high industrial TFA content available on the European market and there are public health gains to be reaped by reducing intake.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the EU and a high intake of TFA seriously increases the risk for heart disease – more than any other nutrient on a per calorie basis. Although average intake in the EU has been reported below national and international recommended levels, this cannot be said for all groups of population.

This report analyses how effective different EU wide measures could be on the potential health benefits for consumers but also the potential burdens for food producers. The options that were investigated included mandatory labelling of TFA, setting legal limits of TFA content in food and voluntary approaches to food reformulation. So far, TFA labelling is not well understood by consumers and increases the complexity of identifying healthier food choices. The effectiveness of voluntary approaches to food reformulation could be limited as it would clearly depend on the scope of industry participation and the coverage of food products on the market.

The Commission will shortly launch a public consultation and carry out an impact assessment to collect more information and build on the analysis provided by today’s report. This process will inform the Commission’s policy decision in the near future.

Trans fats are a particular type of fats that may notably be produced industrially as partially hydrogenated oils.

More information:

FDA ruling on Trans-Fats

FDA released its’ final determination that Partially Hydrogenated Oils (PHOs) are not Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS). The determination is based on extensive research into the effects of PHOs, as well as input from stakeholders during the public comment period.

PHOs are the primary dietary source of artificial trans fat in processed foods. In FDA view, removing PHOs from processed foods could prevent thousands of heart attacks and deaths each year.

Implementation

FDA has set a compliance period of three years. This will allow food companies to either reformulate products without PHOs and/or petition the FDA to permit specific uses of PHOs. Many companies have already been working to remove PHOs from processed foods and the FDA anticipates that many may eliminate them ahead of the three-year compliance date.

It’s important to note that trans fat will not be completely gone from foods because it occurs naturally in small amounts in meat and dairy products, and is present at very low levels in other edible oils.

The FDA encourages consumers seeking to reduce trans fat intake to check a food’s ingredient list to determine whether or not it contains partially hydrogenated oil.

Background

In January 2006, FDA required the food industry to declare the amount of trans fat in food on the Nutrition Facts label. FDA data indicate that many processed foods have been reformulated to reduce the amount of trans fat since the requirement was instituted, but a substantial number of products still contain PHOs.

One of FDA’s core regulatory functions is ensuring that food, including all substances added to food, is safe. In November 2013, FDA made a preliminary determination that PHOs are not “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) for use in food. FDA opened a 60-day public comment period on this measure to solicit data and information on a number of issues, including:

1. Whether FDA should finalize its tentative determination that PHOs are no longer GRAS;
2. How long it would take producers to reformulate food products to eliminate PHOs.

The comment period was then extended an additional 60 days and closed March 8, 2014.

The final determination was released June 16, 2015. This determination is based on extensive research into the effects of PHOs, as well as input from all stakeholders received during the public comment period (see Final Determination Regarding Partially Hydrogenated Oils, June 2015).

To learn more about trans fat, see also the FDA Trans Fat page.

EU Situation

In EU art. 30.7 of the FIC Regulation (“Food Information to Consumers” Reg. (EU) n. 1169/2011) says that “by 13 December 2014, the Commission, taking into account scientific evidence and experience acquired in Member States, shall submit 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 shall accompany this report with a legislative proposal, if appropriate.”

Today the report has not been submitted yet and the Commission has been deeply criticized, especially from consumers associations for the unexpected delay. As a matter of fact in this situation is not even possible to declare voluntary the trans fat value in the EU format of the nutrition declaration (while in USA is mandatory from 2006).

Here below, you can find the definition of Trans fatty acids (TFA) and the advice given by EFSA in a 2010 Scientific Opinion:

“Trans fatty acids are not synthesised by the human body and are not required in the diet. Therefore, no Population Reference Intake, Average Requirement, or Adequate Intake is set. Consumption of diets containing trans-monounsaturated fatty acids, like diets containing mixtures of saturated fatty acids, increases blood total and LDL cholesterol concentrations in a dose-dependent manner, compared with consumption of diets containing cis-monounsaturated fatty acids or cispolyunsaturated fatty acids. Consumption of diets containing trans-monounsaturated fatty acids also results in reduced blood HDL cholesterol concentrations and increases the total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol ratio. The available evidence indicates that trans fatty acids from ruminant sources have adverse effects on blood lipids and lipoproteins similar to those from industrial sources when consumed in equal amounts. Prospective cohort studies show a consistent relationship between higher intakes of trans fatty acids and increased risk of coronary heart disease. The available evidence is insufficient to establish whether there is a difference between ruminant and industrial trans fatty acids consumed in equivalent amounts on the risk of coronary heart disease. Dietary trans fatty acids are provided by several fats and oils that are also important sources of essential fatty acids and other nutrients. Thus, there is a limit to which the intake of trans fatty acids can be lowered without compromising adequacy of intake of essential nutrients. Therefore, the Panel concludes that trans fatty acids intake should be as low as is possible within the context of a nutritionally adequate diet. Limiting the intake of trans fatty acids should be considered when establishing nutrient goals and recommendations.”