World Health Organization unveils new strategies to fight trans-fat in foods

A Milky Way candy bar is deep-fried in oil free of trans fats at a food booth at the Indiana State Fair in Indianapolis

A Milky Way candy bar is deep-fried in oil free of trans fats at a food booth at the Indiana State Fair in Indianapolis

The World Health Organization (WHO) aims to eliminate artificial trans fats from the global food supply chain by 2023 in a move to combat cardiovascular disease. More than 20 nations have restricted the use of trans fats in the last 15 years, and major food manufacturers have practically eliminated the use of trans fats in their foods: Nestle has eliminated trans fats from 99.8% of the oils they use; members of the International Food and Beverage Alliance, which include Kellogg, General Mills, and McDonald's, have eliminated trans fats from 98.8% of their global product portfolios; and Mondelez International, the maker of Oreos, is on track to eliminate all partially hydrogenated oils from its products by the end of the year.

The International Food and Beverage Alliance - a Geneva group representing food companies including Kellogg Co., General Mills Inc., McDonald's Corp. and Unilever NV - said its members have removed industrially produced trans fat from 98.8% of their global product portfolios.

Businesses ranging from large processed-food manufacturers to mom-and-pop restaurants and bakeries like using trans fats - usually for frying and as shortening in baked goods - because they are low-priced and have a long shelf life. The world is now embarking on the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition, using it as a driver for improved access to healthy food and nutrition.

In a release issued Monday, the United Nations health agency said eliminating trans fats is critical to preventing deaths worldwide.

Three inter-agency subgroups were created, leading to changes in 2010 in the Argentinian food code, el Código Alimentario Argentino (CAA), and a new guide for small and medium businesses on how to replace industrially-produced trans fats.

"Multinational companies that make trans fats and have used them as ingredients said they have largely eliminated those oils from foods in the USA, parts of Europe and Canada, where governments already restrict their use". This is why a ban on trans fats can make a very big difference for worldwide health.

World Health Organization said action is needed in low- and middle-income countries, where controls of use of industrially-produced trans fats are often weaker.

Several factors were in Argentina's favor, including the availability of plant-based alternative fats enabled by increased production of sunflower oil high in oleic acid.

In the USA, the first trans fatty food to hit the market was Crisco shortening, which went on sale in 1911. "Trans fatty foods became increasingly popular beginning in the 1950s, partly because experts at the time thought they were healthier than cooking with butter or lard", writes the Associated Press' Mike Stobbe for the Washington Post. They used them in doughnuts, cookies and deep-fried foods.

But they can have harmful health effects, such as raising levels of LDL cholesterol and increasing risk of heart disease, stroke and type two diabetes.

The new REPLACE program is WHO's first time calling for the elimination of something besides a non-communicable disease.

In certain countries, the risk is quite high. "The UK is lagging behind countries like Denmark", said Prof Capewell.

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration determined that the main dietary source for artificial hydrogenated trans fats - partially hydrogenated oils - are not considered as safe. But trans fats remain widely used where regulators and food makers have been slower to take action.

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