Japanese food firms strive to remove trans fats from products, following USFDA and WHO recommendations

By Tingmin Koe

- Last updated on GMT

Japanese food firm Meiji and Megmilk said they have launched margarine without partially hydrogenated oils from March this year. ©Getty Images
Japanese food firm Meiji and Megmilk said they have launched margarine without partially hydrogenated oils from March this year. ©Getty Images
Major Japanese food firms, including Meiji and Megmilk Snow Brand, are removing partially hydrogenated oils (PHO) from their products, in view of the US Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) directive, which will prohibit manufacturers from adding them to food products after June 18.

PHOs contain trans-fats, which are thought to be more harmful than saturated fats.

The two companies told FoodNavigator-Asia the products affected are mainly margarine and shortening for home use. 

Jun Furuta, general manager of public relations and investor relations department at Meiji, said that Meiji has stopped using PHO for 10 margarine products, while Megmilk Snow Brand has done so for 14 margarines and one shortening product.

To distinguish these products, Meiji has pasted logos such as "non-use of partially hydrogenated fats and oils" ​and "reduction of trans-fatty acids"​ on the products.

On the other hand, Megmilk said that their flagship product “Neo Soft” ​spread will contain 0.08g of trans-fat in every 10g of the product after the reduction of trans-fats. It declined to comment on the percentage decrease.

It added that it has succeeded in removing PHOs and maintaining the amount of saturated fat. For instance, the amount of saturated fat in “Neo Soft” is 2.4 g per 10g.

Both firms said the move is a response to directives and recommendations from FDA and WHO.

Last month, the WHO called on governments to eliminate​ industrially produced trans-fatty acids from food supply by 2023.

On the other hand, the US FDA announced in 2015 that PHOs will be removed in the list of ingredients generally recognised as safe (GRAS) and said that manufacturers are not allowed to include non-petitioned used of PHOs in their products after June 18 this year.

However, in order to allow for an orderly transition in the marketplace, the FDA is extending the compliance date for foods manufactured with non-petitioned uses of PHOs before June 18 to January 1, 2020. 

Drop in margarine sales

Megmilk said that since FDA’s announcement, the Japanese media has widely reported about the use of PHO and margarine is often portrayed as containing a high amount of trans-fats.

As a result, the demand for margarine type products has dropped.

Sales of butter and margarine declined in Japan by 4% in retail current value terms, to reach JPY 83.9bn last year, according to Euromonitor.

“Butter and margarine in Japan is expected to continue to record a decline over the forecast period, with a negative value CAGR of 2% at constant 2017 prices, to reach JPY 75.2bn in 2022," ​the Euromonitor report said.

In view of the decline, Megmilk thus decided to reformulate margarine products and remove PHOs in their products.

Meiji also added that Japanese consumers have high awareness of trans-fatty acid in food products.

The trans-fatty acid intake in Japan is extremely low than in Europe and the United States, but the recognition rate of trans-fatty acid in Japan is as high as 80% or more, and the consumers’ interest are high as well.”

Both firms said that the removal of PHO did not affect the taste or texture of products, and in fact are “almost equal to that of conventional product”.

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