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Organic food and trans fats

If you are an obsessive ingredients-label-reader like me, you may have noticed that organic prepared foods never seem to contain hydrogenated fat. I was intrigued to discover whether this was only because organic food companies realised (quite correctly) that hydrogenated fat was incompatible with the 'organic ethic', or if its use in certified organic products was actually forbidden by law.

It was quite easy to find out the Soil Association position: Their website states:

"Organic food doesn't contain food additives which can cause health problems such as heart disease, osteoporosis, migraines and hyperactivity. Amongst the additives banned by the Soil Association are hydrogenated fat, aspartame (artificial sweetener) and monosodium glutamate."

But I remained unclear if the ban on hydrogenated fats in organic food was imposed by law, or was the Soil Association's own special rule. The SA kindly pointed me to the DEFRA web page setting out standards, at http://www.defra.gov.uk/farm/organic/legislation-standards/index.htm.

However I was unable to make head or tail of the information. So instead I emailed DEFRA via their contacts page. To my surprise I had a clear and informative response within a week or so, on 26 August 2004. Here it is:

"Dear Mr Tickell

Thank you for your e-mail regarding the use of hydrogenated vegetable fats in organic food. It is a mandatory requirement.

The rules regarding the production and processing of organic foods in the UK is set out in the Compendium of UK Organic Standards (if you wish to refer to a copy - it is available on : http://www.defra.gov.uk/farm/organic/.)

The only materials that are permitted in organic food processing are those listed in Annex VI (noting, where applicable, the specific conditions for their use).

As you can see from Section C, conventional (i.e. non organic) fats and oils are not permitted if they have been chemically modified. Certainly our view is that hydrogenation is a chemical process and thefore we would have difficulties in accepting its use in organic production.

Regarding organically produced oils and fats, hydrogen is not listed as a processing aid, therefore it would be impossible to produce hydrogenated organic vegetable oils or fats.

So there it is. Hydrogenated fats and the harmful trans fats they contain are banned from organic food - yet another reason to buy it.

Of course there will still be some natural trans fats in organic milk, butter, meat etc. But as we know (see our page on naturally occurring trans fats) these are harmless or even beneficial.

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