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May 20, 2019

Food giants issue new pledge on trans fat

Twelve of the world's largest food and drinks companies are to "enhance their commitment" to reduce the level of trans fat in the global food supply.

By Dean Best

Twelve of the world’s largest food and drinks companies are to “enhance their commitment” to reduce the level of trans fat in the global food supply.

At the end of 2018, members of the International Food & Beverage Alliance had met a target of a 2016 commitment to reduce industrially-produced trans fats (iTFAs) in their products to “nutritionally insignificant levels” – less than one gram of fat per 100 grams of product – across 98.5% of their products worldwide.

Now, the companies, including Nestle, Danone and Kellogg, have committed to align with the WHO’s recommendation for a maximum iTFA threshold in food products that does not exceed two grams of the ingredient per 100 grams of fat or oil by 2023. The new commitment includes McDonald’s, which was not part of the 2016 pledge.

“Working closely with the WHO under Dr Tedros’ leadership, the CEOs of IFBA have made a strong commitment on industrially-produced trans fats. This is a demonstration of effective partnerships, leveraging the authority of WHO and the scale and commitment of the private sector for tangible public health outcomes”, Rocco Renaldi, the IFBA secretary-general, said. “We hope our commitment inspires our suppliers and partners along the value chain to join us too. We will share our know-how with governments, civil society and the broader industry to ensure that the objective can be met by all food manufacturers in all countries.”

The IFBA statement announcing the new pledge described the move as “an enhanced worldwide commitment to phase out industrially-produced trans fats” from the companies’ products.

Speaking to just-food, Renaldi gave more precision to the use of the phrase “phase out” when viewed in context with the maximum threshold for the ingredient of two grams of iTFA per 100 grams of fat or oil.

“The overall commitment is to reduce iTFA in food products as much as possible, to a nutritionally insignificant level. For ease of communication, WHO uses the term ‘elimination’. In reality it is not possible to eliminate iTFA completely, because most if not all oils used in manufacturing contain some iTFA,” Renaldi said.

“The most important action, which IFBA companies have essentially completed, though this is not the case in the broader food industry internationally, is to phase out partially hydrogenated oils (PHO), which are the main source of iTFA in the diet. Note that meat and dairy contain naturally occurring TFA (e.g. up to 5% in butter).

“A challenging yet feasible standard in the oils and fats industry is to ensure that iTFA does not exceed 2%. This is today the case in most commercially available oils in Europe and North America. The global picture is a bit more complex. iTFA in these oils is a result of the refining process, which is indispensable for quality.”

Renaldi also moved to underline the make-up of different oils. “Note also that the higher the unsaturated fat content of the oil, especially with regard to the nutritionally desirable poly-unsaturated fats, the higher the propensity for the oil to contain iTFA. For example, if you simply use palm oil (high in sat fat, low in unsaturated and very low in poly-unsaturated), you won’t have an iTFA issue at all – but the fat profile is not the most desirable as high in sat fat. Conversely, if you use for example canola oil, which is high in unsaturated fat, you will have a desirable overall fat profile, but you are more likely to get some iTFA,” Renaldi said. “Traces of iTFA can also be present in some food additives and processing aids, though these are nutritionally insignificant, as used in very small quantities.”

The IFBA secretary-general insisted the new commitment “is, in practice, more challenging than the previous IFBA standard”, which covered one gram of iTFA per 100g of product.

Renaldi said: “Take for example a 25g product with 10% fat content: under the old standard it is allowed to contain 1g iTFA per 100g of product, or 0.25g of iTFA for the 25g portion; under the new standard – 2% of fat – it is allowed to contain no more than 2% of 2.5g of fat, i.e. 0.05g iTFA.

“If the same product contained 50% fat, the two standards would be equivalent, both allowing for 0.25g iTFA; if the same product contained 60% fat, the old IFBA standard would be slightly stricter (0.25g iTFA) than the new standard (0.3g iTFA). Given that the vast majority of products have a lower fat content than 50%, the new standard is stricter.”

He added: “The old standard was achievable by phasing out PHO; the new standard will require additional efforts to ensure all oil/fat based ingredients meet the correct specifications, which can still be a challenge if you look beyond Europe and North America, and especially in view of the parallel objective of avoiding to increase saturated fat. Hence the need for cooperation with ingredient suppliers to meet the commitment fully in the coming years.”

The other eight companies covered by the new IFBA pledge are Ferrero, General Mills, Grupo Bimbo, Mars, Mondelez International, PepsiCo, Unilever and The Coca-Cola Co.

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