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McDonalds - 2% trans by late 2007

McDonalds today (7/11/06) announced that it will reduce trans levels in its frying oils to 2 percent by late 2007. Here is the statement:

McDonald's Europe today made public its 2-year plan to achieve a substantial reduction in trans fatty acids in its cooking oil, as part of its ongoing commitment to work on the quality of its products and to offer balanced choices. By mid 2008 (depending on supply availabilities), McDonald's plans to have more than 6,300 restaurants across Europe using the new oil that will contain no more than 2% trans fatty acids.

McDonald's Europe will replace the currently used rape and sunflower oil and oil blends with a blend of high oleic rapeseed oil and/or high oleic sunflower oil. By doing so, it will achieve a significant reduction to a maximum of 2% TFA content while limiting the saturated fats to a maximum of 12%. The change of cooking oil will reduce substantially trans fatty acids in French fries, fried chicken and fish products, fried pies, and other promotional fried products. Consumer research on this new oil blend confirms that there is no difference in taste.

European president Denis Hennequin said, "This TFA reduction is part of our strategy to continuously improve the quality of our products and offer balanced choices to our customers. McDonald's Europe has been working since the early 90's with its suppliers to improve the nutritional values of our cooking oil and to ensure the availability of the products to meet our needs across Europe. We only use products and ingredients that meet the highest standards of quality and safety."

McDonald's has asked its suppliers to plant sufficient amounts of high oleic rape and high oleic sunflower seed to ensure supply of the new oil blend for all restaurants across Europe by mid 2008. The roll-out of the new oil in the restaurants across Europe will be gradual, depending on the availability of the product. The first countries to start using the new oil in the coming months will be Sweden, Norway and Finland. McDonald's Europe has requested that suppliers use non-GM products and ingredients.

Extra info specific to the UK:

  • "we have 1,200 restaurants here in the UK and will have achieved this reduction by late 2007"
  • "we use a rapeseed blend in the UK, current TFA levels are 9%, we've reduced these from 30% over the last five years."
  • According to a McDonalds spokesman, the main reason for the time lag is the availablity of the low-linolenic, high oleic varieties of rapeseed suitable for deep frying without hydrogenation. The company is working with farmers in the UK to increase the acreage of these varieties under production and expects to achieve its targets with the 2007 harvest.

    This is a highly significant move - McDOnalds is now the first fat food chain in the UK to commit to low trans frying oils. This move proves that there is no technical or economic obstruction to other fast food companies, caterers etc from doing the same.

    The way it was

    Mc Donalds is one of the world's biggest food companies, purveyor of the "Big Mac" the "Egg McMuffin" and other suich culinary delights. Like many other companies in the fast food sector, it makes extensive use of [partially] hydrogenated oils and its many of its products contain alarmingly high quantities of trans fat.

    In particular, McDonalds uses partially hydrogenated rapeseed oil for all its frying. This is one of the most dangerous oils imaginable due to the high level of trans-polyunsaturates likely to be present, which mimic the essential omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and consequently play havoc with our biochemistry.

    tfX's various attempts to contact McDonalds have as yet failed to elicit any response from the company, however a tfX supporter succeeded in getting this reply from them (September 2006):

    McDonald's have made significant progress in reducing trans fatty acids in their fried products in recent years. The Trans content of McDonald's frying medium was reduced from over 30% trans to approximately 15% trans in 1998.

    McDonald's are currently evaluating even lower trans content frying media. The trans levels in these products are at 2% maximum levels, giving negligible trans levels in fried products.

    Alternatively, it would be very easy to reduce trans levels by increasing the saturates level. However, saturated fat is also considered nutritionally less desirable than unsaturated fat [since (like trans fats) saturated fat raises bad cholesterol, which unsaturated oils do not].

    Standard unsaturated oils could be used, however they are significantly less stable than the products above and would be much more prone to oxidative breakdown. Oxidised oils are also considered nutritionally undesirable.

    Our comments on McDonalds response

    It is good to know that McDonalds halved the trans content from the astonishing level of 30% in 1998. However 15% is still a very high level of trans fat - high enough that a single portion of McDonalds Fries and Chicken McNuggets per day, containing an estimated 20g of frying oil, would deliver 6 grams of trans fat. This is enough to raise someone's risk of heart disease, like stroke or heart attack, by 25%.

    It would be reassuring to know of McDonalds evaluation of lower trans frying media, were it not that these lower-trans frying media are widely available, and being used by McDonalds in other European countries including Denmark (where they are required to do so by law) and Germany.

    And since, according to the Danish Nutrition Council, every gram of dietary trans fat does the same damage to cardiovascular health as 10 grams of saturated fat, it is well worth having a modest increase in saturated fat, in order to reduce trans fat.

    It is true that oxidised, 'worn out' frying oils are nutritionally undesirable. This can be avoided:

    We believe this McDonalds in Denmark is using a low-linolenic frying oil. They should be doing the same here, and the only reason we can think of why they are not is that such oils cost a little more money.


    Phone: 020 8700 7505.


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