India to Cut Trans Fat Limit

India’s food safety regulator will halve the maximum allowed amount of trans fats in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils and fats by next year, in a move that experts are calling an important step to safeguard public health.

But nutrition scientists have cautioned that the government will also need to tweak oilseed crop policies to draw the food processing industry and consumers away from unhealthy but inexpensive trans fats to healthier edible oils.

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has set 5% as the maximum limit for the amount of trans fats in hydrogenated vegetable oils, margarine and fat spreads. This will be applicable from August 2016. The current limit is 10%.

“This is an important move – trans fats are responsible in a big way for metabolic disorders,” said Anoop Misra, an endocrinologist and director of the Fortis Centre for Diabetes Obesity and Cholesterol, New Delhi.

Trans fats are created when vegetable oils are partially hydrogenated, and are therefore also found in a variety of popular processed foods, including baked products.

But medical studies have linked trans fats to heart disease among other health problems. In June, the US Food and Drug Administration decided that trans fats are no longer ‘generally recognised as safe’ and ordered that these be phased out by 2018.

Public health experts say the FSSAI move is in line with the World Health Organisation’s recommendations to replace trans fats, in order to reduce cardiovascular disease. But they also caution that crop and farming policies may need to be changed to drive this shift.
“The government needs to re-orient crop policies to encourage farmers to produce healthier oilseeds such as soybean or mustard or rice bran,” says Suparna Ghosh-Jerath, a nutrition scientist at the Public Health Foundation of India, who has analysed policy options to reduce the use of trans fats.

“These are already cultivated in India, but not enough; [so] the industry relies on inexpensive imported palm oil.”

India’s vast market for loose processed foods – such as snacks sold in shops and by street vendors – would require government intervention at the oil production level.

“Consumer awareness alone will not help,” Ghosh-Jerath said. “When purchasing loose processed food, consumers will look at the quality and the cost. They would prefer to buy an inexpensive crisper and flakier samosa than a soggy-looking samosa cooked in healthier oil.”

Sunita Narain, director-general of the non-government Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), New Delhi, noted that the 5% limit is a step in the right direction, but that “we should aim to reduce it further to near-zero level”.

Five years ago, a study by the CSE had found that the level of trans fats in several partially hydrogenated vegetable oil brands was five to 12 times more than the 2% maximum standard adopted by Denmark.

GS Mudur
The Telegraph, India, Sept 2, 2015

This is an edited version of the article.


 

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