Trans fats and COVID-19? Nestle Philippines seeks clarity on bill, confirms no products will be affected
The bill on trans fats elimination in the Philippines was filed by House Representatives Alfred Delos Santos and Ronnie Ong earlier this year, dubbed ‘An Act To Protect Filipinos From The Harmful Effects Of Trans-Fatty Acids, And For Other Purposes’, or the Trans Fat Free Philippines Bill.
Ong went a step further by linking the bill to increased COVID-19 risk in a post on his Facebook page.
“Our ASEAN neighbours like Singapore and Thailand have already acted on this (trans fats removal), and we cannot be the dumping ground for trans fatty acids (TFA) products because we lack regulation,” he said.
“Now more than ever do we need to watch out for our health, and avoid being at risk with comorbidities like heart diseases which puts us in danger of contracting diseases like COVID-19.”
Delos Santos added that the removal of trans fats consumption would also place local consumers in good stead to fight the pandemic.
“Taking this step today is even more important in light of the recent serious threats to health that we are all facing,” he said, according to national public information arm Philippines Information Agency.
“Now more than ever we need to push for policies that will ensure that Filipinos are in their best of health so that we can fight through any challenges, be it a pandemic or any other that life may throw at us.”
Local food giant Nestle Philippines is generally supportive of this bill, though the firm has also requested that the bill provide more clarity when it came to the terms used in the bill, especially where it came to ‘trans fats’.
Artificial trans fats are usually formed through the industrial process of adding hydrogen to vegetable oil and turning it into partially hydrogenated oil (PHO) which has a longer shelf life and is found in many food products such as fried food and bakery goods. This is accepted to be bad for cholesterol levels, but there also exists natural trans fats found in some meat and dairy products for which the scientific evidence is currently inconclusive.
“We wish to seek clarification on the definition of trans fats in the proposed legislation,” Nestle Philippines SVP and Head of Corporate Affairs and Communications Arlene Bantoto told FoodNavigator-Asia.
“We share the concern about the impact on health of consuming trans fats from partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) and have committed to removing them from all our products.”
That said, Bantoto also confirmed that the filing and passing of this bill would not have any impact on any of its products or supply chains, as it has already taken steps to remove trans fats from its manufacturing process since long before the bill was filed.
“The passage of the bill on industrial trans fats or on use of partially hydrogenated oils will not affect Nestlé’s ingredients use and product manufacturing. We have already removed all partially hydrogenated oils in our ingredients and manufacturing,”
“We already declare zero trans fats on our labels, [and] have had policies in place as early as 1999 to reduce trans fats in our portfolio. In 2014, we also strengthened our policy to remove all trans fats originating from hydrogenated trans fats in our products globally.
“Nestle will continue to call for the elimination of trans fats of industrial origin across the food industry, based on scientific evidence that industrial trans fats increase the risk of coronary heart disease.”
No direct link between trans fats and COVID-19
Bantoto also stressed that although trans fats are bad for health, there is no direct evidence between this and COVID-19.
“[There] is evidence showing that industrial trans fats consumption is associated with non-communicable diseases such as coronary heart disease and diabetes [but] limited information on the impact of food on COVID-19 infection,” she said.
“Likewise, there is no sufficient evidence to prove that trans fats can increase the risk of COVID-19 infection.”
There is no concrete evidence so far that links coronary heart disease to increased COVID-19 risk either, although experts such as Columbia University professor Dr Mitchell Elkind have said that the effects could just be worse for a heart patient.
"[It] does not look like cardiovascular disease makes people more likely to get the virus, [but] tt's more that it makes the course of it potentially worse," he told Heart.
The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention previously released data showing that COVID-19 patients with underlying conditions like heart disease are ‘six times more likely to be hospitalized and 12 times more likely to die’ than patients without chronic health problems. Cardiovascular disease has been found to be the most common underlying issue, found in around one in three COVID-19 patients.