Row over labelling of trans fats in food

CONSUMER groups want hidden fat that contributes to heart disease and cholesterol to be limited or banned but the Irish Food Safety Authority says it should be enough to label it.

Trans fatty acid is the subject of a class action in the US being taken by consumers against Kentucky Fried Chicken while the American Heart Foundation says it should be strictly limited to 1% of total calories.

Designed to give food a long shelf life and improve the flavour and texture industrially produced trans fats are found in most processed, convenience and fast foods.

The European Food Safety Authority says trans fats significantly increase the risk of heart disease and are more dangerous than saturated fats.

They boost the level of ‘bad’ cholesterol while also cutting down the amount of ‘good’ cholesterol, which helps stop arteries clogging.

The European-wide consumer agency, BEUC, and its director, Jim Murray, says trans fats have no nutrition benefit but promote ill health.

“There is no reason to keep trans fatty acids in the food supply, as they can easily be removed,” he said.

Deputy chief executive of the Irish Food Safety Authority, Alan Reilly, said they favour having trans fat labelled rather than banned. Fast food and other restaurants could indicate the presence of trans fat in their food on wall posters while consumers would be entitled to ask and receive the information.

Denmark three years ago limited the amount of industrially produced trans fat in food to 2% but did not apply it to the naturally occurring variety found in small amounts in butter, meat and milk.

The European Commission’s Enterprise department has told them to remove the limit as it discriminates against the industrial variety and so is breaking common market rules.

The Danes have submitted evidence to show industrial fatty acids are more dangerous than the natural ones. Under EU rules they can ban or limit products based on health grounds.

A spokesperson for the Commission’s Health and Consumer Protection department said they will look carefully at the scientific evidence.

The EU’s legislation on labelling is being revised at present and the current controversy in Denmark could result in the EU following the US in insisting it be shown on the label.

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