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Trans fats in Government’s crosshairs

Food poisoning. Trans fats concept. Credit: 123rf
Image credit: tonobalaguer / 123rf

The Union Government has trans fats in its sights, as reports indicate the Narendra Modi administration intends to outline regulations this month.

Per a report published by The Print, “to reduce incidence of heart ailments, the Narendra Modi government is likely to roll out regulations for limiting trans fatty acids (TFA) or trans fats in food items by this month.” It adds that the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), the country’s apex food regulator, will mandatorily limit trans fats content in food items and oils to three per cent by 2021 and two per cent by 2022, against the present limit of five percent.”

Trans fats are a substantial public health concern when it comes to the citizenry’s diet – so much so that it has been flagged as an issue by the World Health Organization (WHO). In 2019, the WHO – as reported by Health Issues India “achieved a major breakthrough in its campaign to eliminate industrially produced trans fats from the global food supply by 2023.” This followed “a meeting with the International Food and Beverage Alliance (IFBA) representatives, including chief executive officers from several of the twelve companies comprising the alliance, on May 2nd, 2019.” 

In this meeting, “the industry committed to eliminate industrial trans fats, and reduce quantities of salt, sugar and saturated fats in processed foods. The meeting also stressed the value of regulatory action on labelling, marketing and called industry to full adherence to the WHO Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes.” 

WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at the time that “the commitment made by IFBA is in line with WHO’s target to eliminate industrial trans fats from the global food supply by 2023. WHO will be monitoring the next steps to be taken by companies to help ensure the commitment is realised.”

Earlier this year, the WHO critiqued India (among other nations) for its performance on tackling trans fats. As reported by Livemint, “the WHO said that fifteen countries account for approximately two thirds of the worldwide deaths linked to trans-fat intake. Of these, four (Canada, Latvia, Slovenia, United States of America) have implemented WHO-recommended best-practice policies since 2017, either by setting mandatory limits for industrially produced trans fats to two percent of oils and fats in all foods or banning partially hydrogenated oils (PHO).” 

However, Livemint quoted the WHO as stating, “the remaining eleven countries (Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Ecuador, Egypt, India, Iran, Mexico, Nepal, Pakistan, Republic of Korea) still need to take urgent action.” 

India has expressed ambitions to combat the risks posed by trans fats to public health. Last year, the FSSAI unveiled its intentions to make India a trans fats-free nation by 2022. “We aim to reduce the industrially produced trans fatty acids to less than two percent by the year 2022 in a phased manner,” said then-FSSAI chief executive officer Pawan Agarwal at the time. “This is in line with our objective to get freedom from trans fats.”

The new regulations serve to further this ambition. Incumbent FSSAI chief executive officer Arun Singhal said “the industry has to be a little more innovative and pull up its socks to find ways on how to reduce trans fats from food items.” 

Tackling heart disease is a major impetus behind the drive to rid India of trans fats. Heart disease led all conditions as India’s leading cause of death in 2016, accounting for more than 28 percent of the country’s deaths that year. Heart disease cases have been on the rise in recent decades. Last year, Health Issues India reported a fifty percent rise in heart disease cases in India over the course of the preceding 25 years.

The newly-unveiled Indian ambitions in tackling the trans fats scourge intend to supersede WHO targets, Singhal said. “We are working on the final regulations which are likely to be released by this month,” he said. “The objective is to decrease trans fat content in foods and oils to two per cent by 2022, which is one year earlier than the [WHO]’s target.”

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