WHO urges ban on industrial trans-fats by 2023

By Joseph James Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

Trans-fatty acids can be industrially produced by partial hydrogenation of vegetable and fish oils
Trans-fatty acids can be industrially produced by partial hydrogenation of vegetable and fish oils
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has called on governments to eliminate industrially produced trans-fatty acids from the food supply by 2023.

The agency estimates that every year trans-fat intake leads to more than 500,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease.

Industrially produced trans-fats are found in hardened vegetable fats, such as margarine, and often in snacks, baked and fried foods. Manufacturers use them as they have a longer shelf life than other fats.

Trans-fatty acids can also occur naturally in meat and dairy products from ruminant animals (e.g. cattle, sheep, goats, etc).

Victory in fight against CVD

The six-step guide, called REPLACE, comes after WHO opened a consultation​ until 1 June to review draft guidelines on intake of trans-fats and saturated fats for adults and children.


RE​view dietary sources of industrially-produced trans fats and the landscape for required policy change
P​romote replacement of industrially-produced trans fats with healthier fats and oils
L​egislate or enact regulatory actions to eliminate industrially-produced trans fats
A​ssess and monitor trans fats content in food supply and changes in trans-fat consumption in the population
C​reate awareness of negative health impact of trans fats among policy makers, producers, suppliers and the public
E​nforce compliance of policies and regulations

It includes replacing trans-fats with healthier fats and oils, creating awareness of the negative health impact and monitoring content in the food supply and changes in consumption patterns.

WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said: "Implementing the six strategic actions in the REPLACE package will help achieve the elimination of trans-fat, and represent a major victory in the global fight against cardiovascular disease.”

WHO recommends total trans-fat intake be limited to less than 1% of total energy intake, which is less than 2.2 g/day with a 2,000-calorie diet.

It said diets high in trans-fat increase heart disease risk by 21% and deaths by 28%.

Replace PHOs with unsaturated fats

The International Food and Beverage Alliance (IFBA) said members are reducing industrially produced trans-fatty acids from partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) in products to no more than 1 g trans-fatty acid per 100 g of product by the end of 2018.

It added they will replace PHOs with unsaturated fats wherever possible.

“We call on food producers in all sectors to take prompt action and we stand ready to support effective measures to work toward the elimination of industrially produced trans-fat and to ensure a level playing field in this area,” ​said the group which counts Danone, Ferrero, General Mills, Mars, Mondelez, Nestlé, Kellogg’s, PepsiCo and Unilever as members.

The Consumer Choice Center (CCC) said WHO should focus on eradicating infectious diseases as opposed to policing adult food choices.

“The proposed ban is just another arbitrary intrusion into the lives of consumers and part of a larger ​trend of paternalistic regulation," said David Clement, North American Affairs manager of the group which depends on funding from private donors.

“Not only will a ban increase costs, but it is unnecessary given that in developed countries, like Canada for example, 97% of the food supply is already trans-fat free. Targeting trans-fats while the developing world struggles with Ebola outbreaks is a gross misappropriation of the WHO's time and energy.”

Differing worldwide outlook

Some governments have banned PHOs, the main source of industrially produced trans-fats.

Denmark was the first country to restrict industrially produced trans-fats in 2003 and cardiovascular disease deaths have declined more quickly there than in comparable countries.

"We currently have seven countries in the European region that have a legal ban on trans-fat​," said Dr João Breda, head of the WHO European Office for Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases.

However, WHO warned action is needed in low- and middle-income countries, where controls are often weaker.

New York City eliminated industrially produced trans-fat a decade ago.

WHO global ambassador for non-communicable diseases, Michael R. Bloomberg, said: "Banning trans-fats in New York City helped reduce the number of heart attacks without changing the taste or cost of food, and eliminating their use around the world can save millions of lives.”

President of the Centre for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), Dr Peter G. Lurie, said partially hydrogenated oil is rare in the US, and industry will be able to comply with the June 18 deadline by the Food and Drug Administration to eliminate it.

“Still widely used in India, Russia, Africa, the Middle East, and elsewhere, partially hydrogenated oil is a potent contributor to cardiovascular disease and is exactly the kind of low-hanging fruit the WHO and governments around the world should be targeting in their public health efforts.”

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