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BMJ editorial on trans fats - tfX responds

In response to the article "Trans fatty acids and cororonary heart disease" by Robert Clarke and Sarah Lewington of Oxford University, published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) on 29 July 2006.

tfX (the UK campaign against trans fats in food) welcomes the excellent article by Robert Clarke and Sarah Lewington, "Trans fatty acids and coronary heart disease".

We agree with the call to label trans fats in nutrition panels on packaged food. Astonishingly, the current European Directive on nutrition labelling makes this illegal, unless accompanied by a claim regarding trans fats.

However the labelling of trans fats is not a sufficient response, for two main reasons:

  1. There are many people who do not read food labels, understand nutritional information or act on the information provided. By and large, these are the people who are eating the highest levels of trans fat, as more health-aware people are already avoiding products containing hydrogenated oil. Trans fat labelling would be of no help to those who ignore nutritional information, or their children, except by the indirect route by which the compulsory labelling of trans fat will encourage manufacturers to reduce levels generally.
  2. Most of the trans fat many people eat is not in packaged food at all, but in unpackaged baked goods, pub and restaurant food, and take-away / fast food. These unpackaged foods are not subject to any labelling requirement and as such will be unaffected by a labelling regulation.

For these reasons the only truly effective solution is to impose legal limits on trans fat, following the example of Denmark which imposed such limits in 2003, and now Canada which has indicated its intention to impose similar legislation.

To look at the Danish example, the food industry has been able to comply with the regulation (Executive Order No. 160 of 11 March 2003) which limits industrial trans fat to 2 percent of the fat and oil content of food, with no apparent inconvenience to consumers or increase in the price of food. There is no obvious reason why the UK should not do the same, and realise considerable improvements in public health at little or no cost to anyone.


Oliver Tickell, tfX

The UK campaign against trans fats in food


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