The Thai government recently announced its plan to ban trans fats due its links to ailments such as coronary artery disease.
This prohibition of trans fats would significantly impact suppliers of partially hydrogenated oils and products containing trans fat, and push cooking oil producers, food manufacturers as well as restaurants to reformulate their products.
“The ban of partially hydrogenated oil in foods will impact the food industry from upstream — oil and raw material — to downstream process — for example, doughnuts, fried products, snacks and so on,” said Alan Adcock, partner and deputy director of Intellectual Property, Tilleke & Gibbins.
According to the legal firm, which has been assisting the Thai government, the public consultation hearing had ended on Dec 31, and it is currently being finalised by a sub-committee.
Do or die
Adcock said the Thai food industry will need to comply with the Notification “in whatever form that may ultimately be upon promulgation, likely by formulation changes” to ensure that products meet the new requirement.
“Testing for trans fats may likely become a mandatory test for food manufacturers,” he said.
However, he added that it is still a question whether naturally-occurring trans fat will be allowed under the Notification.
As for businesses or producers who flout the law, or are caught with products having trans fat, penalties could be quite harsh.
Siradapat Ratanakorn, regulatory affairs consultant for Tilleke & Gibbins, said that if food is found to contain prohibited substances such as partially hydrogenated oils, the Thai FDA will regard it as “impure food” under the Food Act. This would categorise it as unhygienic or dangerous to human health.
“Whoever produces, imports or sells the impure food will be subject to imprisonment of not more than two years, or a fine of not more than 20,000 baht, or both, under Food Act, Section 58,” she said.
“Breach of the Notification could see the Thai FDA ordering a suspension of the food product license and/or food manufacturing license, of not more than 120 days,” added Dr Atthachai Homhuan, regulatory affairs manager of Tilleke & Gibbins.
Dr Atthachai did mention that penalised importers or domestic manufacturers would be able to challenge such license suspensions before the Administrative Court. Such suspensions would be stayed pending the decision of the Administrative Court or the final appeal decision, he said.
As it is still being finalised, details of legislation, including specifics regarding acceptable amounts of trans fats — whether total elimination or a certain permissible percentage — have yet to be announced.
Tilleke & Gibbins said, if implemented, the official prohibition would come into effect one year after its publication in the Royal Gazette.
The Thai government had targeted 2020 for the implementation, in line with the global movement to phase out partially hydrogenated oils by then, and it appears to be on track.
Thailand feels the pinch
Dr Atthachai said: “Under the Notification, trans fat (and partially hydrogenated oils) would be banned for foods that are produced or imported for sale in Thailand. However, these oils would still be allowed in food production for export purposes.”
“The calculation of any expected financial impact on the food industry must therefore take into account implications for both domestic and export markets.”
While the new law is seen to hurt many oil producers and food manufacturers, others may be rejoicing.
Tilleke & Gibbins stated that suppliers of other oils or alternatives, such as palm oil, are likely to benefit following the implementation of the Notification.
According to the Bangkok Post, in other overseas markets where similar bans were implemented, partially hydrogenated oil producers lost market share to palm oil.
Furthermore, Thailand is the third-largest palm oil producer in the world at a distant 1.2% of global production, compared to Indonesia and Malaysia at 53.4% and 37.9%.
Tilleke & Gibbins concluded that the Thai FDA is inclined toward the implementation of the trans fats ban so that it would not be perceived as a trade barrier between Thailand and the WTO, of which the country is a member nation.