The World Health Organization (WHO) is taking steps to help all countries in the world eradicate trans fat from the global food supply within five years.
The UN health agency said in a statement on Monday that “the elimination of trans-fatty acids is essential to protect health and save lives”. The organization calculates that every year, trans fat intake causes more than 500,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease.
The industrially produced trans fats are found in hardened vegetable fats, such as margarine and clarified butter, and are often found in snack foods, baked goods, and fried foods.
“We are talking about a crisis and it is an offensive in our current fight,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO boss, said at a press conference in Geneva.
The WHO officials believe that their goal can be achieved in five years, as work is already well advanced in several countries.
Denmark did it 15 years ago; since then, the United States and more than 40 other high-income countries have been working to remove trans fats from their food supply.
The WHO is now encouraging low- and middle-income countries to join the movement, said Dr Francesco Branca, director of WHO’s nutrition, health and development department.
Trans fat is an unhealthy substance that forms when hydrogen is added to the vegetable oil to solidify it, for example to make margarine or butter.
Experts say they can be replaced with canola oil or other products. Trans fats are also found naturally in certain meats and dairy products.
WHO recommends that total trans fat intake be limited to less than 1% of total energy intake, ie less than 2.2 grams / day for a 2000 calorie diet.
Trans fatty acids are a dangerous product that can be removed easily, inexpensively, and with no effect on the quality of food.
Countries may, however, need to legislate to force food manufacturers to change.
At the WHO press conference on Monday, a representative of the food industry assured that it is working to reduce trans fat in its products.
“We are asking food manufacturers in our industry to act quickly and we are ready to support effective measures to achieve the elimination of industrially produced trans fatty acids and ensure the equality of all in this area,” says Rocco Rinaldi, Secretary General of the International Food and Beverage Alliance.
Tom Friedman, the former head of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who has worked with the WHO on this issue, says this is an unprecedented intervention.
The world is now attacking major killers, especially heart disease, which kills more people than any other cause in virtually every country.
Food manufacturers liked trans fat because it has a longer shelf life than other fats. They used them in donuts, biscuits and fried foods.
However, studies have shown that trans fats disrupt cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease. Some claim that trans fat is the most dangerous fat in the food supply.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has asked food manufacturers to stop using trans fatty acids by June 18, 2018, but it refuses to say what progress has been made so far.