The World Health Organization (WHO) is launching an initiative to eliminate trans-fats from food globally, putting pressure on food and oil producers and governments to speed up their work to prevent hundreds of thousands of heart disease deaths each year. The United Nations Specialized Agency called on governments to ban or curb these fats and replace them with healthier fats and oils. The WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said removing trans fats from the men’s menu would be “a global victory in the fight against cardiovascular disease”.
The international companies that produce trans fats and use them as ingredients say they have largely removed these oils from food in the US, parts of Europe and Canada, where governments are already restricting their use.
But trans fats remain widely used when regulators and food producers are too slow in their actions. Many of the fats are found in foods produced by local producers.
The International Food and Drinks Association, a Geneva group representing food companies, including Kellogg Co, General Mills Inc, McDonald’s Corp and Unilever, said its members have removed industrially produced trans fats from 98.8% of global product portfolios.
“We welcome this endeavor from the World Health Organization”, said the Secretary General of the International Food and Drinks Association.
Nestle works for the “total removal of all trans fats” from partially hydrogenated oils. According to Nestle’s spokesperson, the company has eliminated 99.8% of the fat and oil it uses. The giant Mondelez International is about removing partially hydrogenated oils from their products by the end of the year.
Transfats, often in the form of partially hydrogenated edible oils, have played a leading role in popularizing packaged food after World War II in the United States and elsewhere in the world. Food manufacturers use them for cooking oils with longer expiry date, stabilize margarine and help packed biscuits to preserve their flavor.
More than 20 countries have restricted the use of trans fat in the past 15 years. The WHO recommends limiting the intake of trans fats to less than 1% of the total energy intake and less than 2.2 grams per day on a 2,000-calorie diet day. The trans fats are associated with 537,000 deaths from heart disease worldwide every year, or about 7.7% of all heart disease deaths, according to a 2016 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.