Supermarkets get serious about trans fats

Much has been said about the health risks connected with the use of hydrogenated vegetable oil (HVOs) in our food, but little has been done about it.
Finally the big supermarket chains are taking seriously consumers’ concerns about the health risks involved and they have announced a strategy to remove them from their own-brand products.
Marks and Spencer led the way by phasing out HVO in its food and this was completed in April 2006.
Sainsbury’s has now promised to phase out HVO across all their own-brand range by 1 January 2007, whereas Tesco has said this process will be completed by the end of 2006.
Sainsbury’s have been working to remove HVO for over a year and has so far removed 383 tonnes of the fat just from its cake production.
Judith Batchelar, director of Sainsbury’s brands said, “With over 15,000 own brand food and drink products, the complete removal of hydrogenated vegetable oils and flavour enhancers has been a huge piece of work.
“Given the scale, this has been a big challenge for us but we have kept sight of how important it is to our customers and are pleased to name our deadline.”
The use of HVO by manufacturers is widespread as it helps to regulate the structure and hardness of food. Another key reason to use HVO is to prolong the shelf life of food.
The downside to consuming HVO is a by-product called trans fats. These fats have directly been linked to LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and heart disease .
A big problem area for UK consumers was that even if they wanted to avoid buying produce with HVO, current food labelling laws do not make it mandatory to labels to say how much trans fats are in a product.
Labelling of trans fats became mandatory in the USA on 1 January 2006. However pressure is now starting to grow across Europe especially after a recent article in the British Medical Journal.
Researchers from Oxford University said that after analysing all the evidence they recommend consumers to stop or reduce the amount of trans fats they ingest to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.
Some EU states such as Denmark have restricted the use of industrially produced trans fats. Oils and fats that contain more than 2 per cent trans fat are banned in Denmark.
Europe is under pressure to follow Denmark’s example and impose clear labelling on food producers for the presence of trans fats.
The Food Standards Agency wants a European directive to give a prescribed layout for nutritional labelling so the fats are included.

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