The content of this website is intended for healthcare professionals only

Heart specialists call for Europe to ban trans fats in processed food

Move follows US regulator’s recent decision to ban these fats in commercial products

Caroline White

Tuesday, 07 July 2015

Heart specialists are calling on Europe to ban the use of trans fats in the manufacture of processed foods.

The call by the European Society of Cardiology (ESC), which has 90,000 members, comes in the wake of the US decision last month to force the food industry to eliminate these fats from the food supply, on the grounds that they are unsafe for human consumption.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is giving manufacturers a three year grace period to allow them to gradually phase out the use of trans fats (TFAs) in processed foods by 2018. This step is expected to reduce cardiovascular disease and prevent thousands of fatal heart attacks every year in the US.  

In the US it has been a statutory requirement for the TFA content of food to be declared on food labelling since 2006. But in 2013, the FDA made a preliminary determination that partially hydrogenated  oils—the most common form of TFAs—were no longer "generally recognised as safe."

Partially hydrogenated oils are the most commonly used source of fat in commercially produced baked goods.

“We made this determination based on the available scientific evidence and the findings of expert panels,” said Dr Susan Mayne, Director of FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

“Studies show that diet and nutrition play a key role in preventing chronic health problems, such as cardiovascular disease and [this] action goes hand in hand with other FDA initiatives to improve the health of Americans, including updating the Nutrition Facts label,” she added.

In a statement issued today, the European Society of Cardiology said it welcomes the US decision “to remove artificial trans fat (TFAs) from the food supply” and “calls upon European policy makers to urgently bring forward EU-wide regulation to address this important health issue.”

The European Commission was supposed to have published a report on the TFA content of foods and European health in December.

Trans fats raise the level of LDL cholesterol in the blood, a known risk factor for the development of heart disease. “The detrimental effects of TFAs on heart health and mortality are now beyond dispute,” the ESC statement continues.

It points out that cardiovascular disease is Europe’s biggest killer, causing over 4 million deaths in Europe and over 1.9 million deaths in the EU, equivalent to almost half (47%) of all deaths in Europe and 40% of deaths in the EU.

TFA intake is particularly high in Eastern and South Eastern Europe, which contributes to the widening of national and international health inequalities, says the ESC.

“Based on the effects on cardiovascular health of TFA intake; the positive experiences from different interventions to limit [this]; and the accumulated knowledge on differential consumption of TFAs across Europe, the European Society of Cardiology believes that a regulatory intervention is necessary to ensure that all EU citizens can effectively reduce their TFA intake,” concludes the statement.

In April, the European Chronic Disease Alliance, which backs the ESC’s stance, published a position paper on the need for EU regulation to set upper limits for industrially produced TFAs.

So far only six countries in Europe have introduced their own legislation in respect of TFA limits: Austria, Denmark, Hungary, Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: "We have significantly reduced levels of artificial transfats in foods by working with industry. The latest data show that the daily intake of trans fats in the UK was below 1 per cent of food energy, in line with expert advice. Tackling obesity and improving people's health through good nutrition continues to be a major priority for this government.”

Registered in England and Wales. Reg No. 2530185. c/o Wilmington plc, 5th Floor, 10 Whitechapel High Street, London E1 8QS. Reg No. 30158470