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Press Release: Co-op to label trans fats - tfX claims 'success'

EMBARGO: Not for publication before 00.00 9 February 2005.

The Co-operative Group has committed to label the quantities of toxic 'trans fats' found in its processed foods. This is a first for a UK retailer, and the Co-op is setting a standard in honest labelling for the rest of the industry to follow.

The move follows a complaint by campaign group tfX (the campaign against trans fats) to the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority). The complaint was about a Co-op plastic bag (see photo on tfx website: www.tfx.org.uk) claiming the Co-op told "the whole truth" in its packaging. The ASA decision is published today (9/02/05) on its website (www.asa.org.uk).

tfX is claiming 'success' in its complaint because it drew the attention of senior management in the Co-op. After tfX explained why it was so important to label trans fats, senior Co-op managers agreed. As a result, the Co-op is to begin on the process that will lead to the labelling of trans fats, hopefully in 2005.

This will give consumers the ability to pick Co-op foods which are low in trans fats, and conversely to avoid foods which are high in trans fats. The Co-op's initiative therefore supports FSA advice to consumers to avoid eating trans fats because they are harmful and "serve no nutritional purpose". Trans fats are implicated in heart and cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes. They inhibit the uptake of essential fatty acids, such as Omega-3 oils. Consumed by pregnant women and lactating mothers, they enter the tissue of babies where they have the same effects.

These harmful trans fats are mainly found in hydrogenated vegetable oil. Some trans fats occur in small quantities in meat and dairy produce, however these appear to be harmless, or even beneficial to health.

The main reason why the ASA found in favour of the Co-op is that the UK's 1996 Nutrition Labelling Regulations forbid the inclusion of trans fat quantities in nutrition panels, unless a claim about trans fats is made - at which point it becomes compulsory.

This is an absurd law that should be immediately reformed in the consumer interest. It also appear to contradict the EU Directive it is meant to implement (Council Directive 90/496/EC).

However the law is also easy to get around: by making a 'claim', for example that trans fats are present in a product in 'low' 'medium' or 'high' quantities, any retailer or food producer who wishes to label trans fats can do so.

The Co-operative Group has been at the forefront of consumer-friendly product labelling, and in deciding to label trans fats it is pursuing a long and honourable tradition of standing up for consumer choice and health.

A lot more information about the case, and about trans fats in general is to be found on the tfX website: www.tfx.org.uk.

Oliver Tickell, tfX founder.

Phone: 01865 728118.
Mobile: 0780 838 1514.
Website: www.tfx.org.uk

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