The regulation was implemented in 2018, giving food importers and manufacturers two years to comply.
According to SFDA website, the regulation now applies to all food products intended for human consumption, with the exception of completely hydrogenated oils and trans-fats from natural sources (animal sources).
The country has already implemented a 2% trans-fatty acids (TFA) limit for fats/oils and a 5% TFA limit for all other foods, with effect in 2017.
Partially hydrogenated oil is the industrial form of trans-fat which is formed when hydrogen is added to heated oil, solidifying it. It is added in most processed foods as they are inexpensive to produce, gives the foods a desirable taste and texture and increases the product’s shelf life.
However, high consumption of trans-fat come with certain health risks including high cholesterol, hypertension and diabetes.
There is a naturally-occurring type of trans-fat that is produced in the gut of some animals and foods made from these animals (e.g., milk and meat products) may contain small quantities of these fats.
PHOs are often found in snacks, baked goods, fried foods, that are made from hardened vegetable fats, such as margarine and ghee.
According to a study published in 2018 where 181 food products were sampled from local supermarkets in Al Ahsa, Saudi Arabia between 2014 to 2016, one-third of the products mentioned trans-fat in the labelling. Cake products (94.74%), pies (75%), breads (60%), samposa (40%) and crackers (60%) showed the highest percentages in reporting trans-fat containing ingredients in their ingredients list.
Commitment to better health
The TFA and PHO bans are part of the government’s commitment to address the country’s high prevalence of cardiovascular diseases (CVD) and other non-communicable diseases (NCD).
According to a report by the NCD Alliance, 37% of deaths in Saudi Arabia were attributed to CVD in 2016.
Over the last four decades, dietary fat intake has more than doubled from 33g per person per day in 1970s to 82g per person per day in 2014.
The Saudi Food & Drug Authority (SFDA) and Ministry of Health had developed a Healthy Food Strategy, which is part of the country’s broader Vision 2030 to reduce CVD and obesity in the country.
In response to the strategy, SFDA had taken actions on nutrition labelling including TFA labelling on food products (2016), and limits on TFAs in the food supply (2017).
Meshal Almotairi, standards department manager at SFDA noted in the report that the national PHO ban was not expected to pose a significant impact, especially with the gradual implementation of the TFA limit ban. He said most multinational food companies had already reduced PHOs to no more than 1% of the product by weight in 2018.
An inspection campaign conducted in February 2018 by the SFDA found that 94% of the 400 food products sampled complied with the current TFA limits.
The SFDA is planning another inspection campaign in early 2020 to monitor compliance with the PHO ban. Although Almotairi noted that their greatest challenge was monitoring compliance, given that a test for PHOs does not currently exist.
Elsewhere in the region, Iran was the first to set the TFA limit in Middle East. UAE’s ban on trans-fat will apply in 2023.