The international trade in food is standardized in the Codex Alimentarius. Hydrogenated oils and fats come under the scope of Codex Stan 19. Non-dairy fat spreads are covered by Codex Stan 256-2007. In the Codex Alimentarius, trans fat to be labelled as such is defined as the geometrical isomers of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids having non-conjugated by at least one methylene group (-CH2-CH2-) carbon-carbon double bonds in the trans configuration. This definition excludes specifically the healthy 'trans fats' (vaccenic acid and conjugated linoleic acid) which are present especially in human milk, dairy products, and beef.
The Australian federal government has indicated that it wants to pursue actively a policy of reducing trans fats from fast foods. The former federal assistant health minister, Christopher Pyne, asked fast food outlets to reduce their trans fat usage. A draft plan was proposed, with a September 2007 timetable, in order to reduce reliance on trans fats and saturated fats.
Currently, Australia's food labeling laws do not require trans fats to be shown separately from the total fat content. However, margarine in Australia has been free of trans fat since 1996.
In spite of the efforts mentioned above, Australia has chosen to define trans fats strictly as any fat containing a trans bond. In this sense Australia is diverting from codex (although having agreed on codex definition for trans fats), and also from the regulatory definitions implemented in the US, and EU member states regulations. Considering this, the present Australian/New Zealand food act is positioning human milk as rich (3-6%) in trans fat, and as such unacceptable for human use. Both scientifically and politically seen, this is an isolated position implicitly considering human milk as unhealthy. How the act positions beef meat and dairy products is another story altogether.
In November 2004, an opposition day motion seeking a ban similar to Denmark's was introduced by Jack Layton of the New Democratic Party, and passed through the House of Commons by an overwhelming 193-73 vote. Like all Commons motions, it served as an expression of the views of the House but was not binding on the government and has no force under the law.
Since December 2005, Health Canada has required that food labels list the amount of trans fat in the nutrition facts section for most foods. Products with less than 0.2 grams of trans fat per serving may be labeled as free of trans fats. These labelling allowances are not widely known, but as an awareness of them develops, controversy over truthful labelling is growing. In Canada, trans fat quantities on labels include naturally occurring trans fats from animal sources.
In June 2006, a task force co-chaired by Health Canada and the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada recommended a limit of 5% trans fat (of total fat) in all products sold to consumers in Canada (2% for tub margarines and spreads). and Food & Consumer Products of Canada has congratulated the task force on the report, although it did not recommend delaying implementation to 2010 as they had previously advocated.
Ten months after submitting their report the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada and Toronto Public Health issued a plea to the government of Canada: "to act immediately on the task force's recommendations and to eliminate harmful trans fat from Canada's food supply."
On June 20, 2007, the federal government announced its intention to regulate trans fats to the June 2006 standard unless the food industry voluntarily complied with these limits within two years.
On January 1, 2008, Calgary became the first city in Canada to ban trans fats from restaurants and fast food chains. Trans fats present in cooking oils may not exceed 2% of the total fat content. However, the replacement of local health regions with the Alberta Health Services Board in 2009 has temporarily eliminated all enforcement of the ban.
Effective September 30, 2009, British Columbia became the first province in Canada to mandate the June 2006 recommendation in provincially regulated food services establishments.
Denmark became the first country to introduce laws strictly regulating the sale of many foods containing trans fats in March 2003, a move which effectively bans partially hydrogenated oils. The limit is 2% of fats and oils destined for human consumption. It should be noted that this restriction is on the ''ingredients'' rather than the final products. This regulatory approach has made Denmark the only country in which it is possible to eat "far less" than 1 g of industrially produced trans fats on a daily basis, even with a diet including prepared foods. It is hypothesized that the Danish government's efforts to decrease trans fat intake from 6g to 1g per day over 20 years is related to a 50% decrease in deaths from ischemic heart disease.
Switzerland followed Denmark's trans fats ban, and implemented its own beginning in April 2008.
On request the European Food Safety Authority produced a scientific opinion on trans fatty acids.
In October 2005, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) asked for better labelling in the UK. In the July 29, 2006 edition of the ''British Medical Journal'', an editorial also called for better labelling. In January 2007, the British Retail Consortium announced that major UK retailers, including Asda, Boots, Co-op, Iceland, Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury's, Tesco and Waitrose intend to cease adding trans fatty acids to their own products by the end of 2007.
Sainsbury's became the first UK major retailer to ban all trans fat from all their own brand foods.
On 13 December 2007, the Food Standards Agency issued news releases stating that voluntary measures to reduce trans fats in food had already resulted in safe levels of consumer intake.
Before 2006, consumers in the United States could not directly determine the presence (or quantity) of trans fats in food products. This information could only be inferred from the ingredient list, notably from the partially hydrogenated ingredients. According to the FDA, the average American consumes 5.8 grams of trans fat per day (2.6% of calories.)
On July 11, 2003, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a regulation requiring manufacturers to list trans fat on the Nutrition Facts panel of foods and some dietary supplements. The new labeling rule became mandatory across the board, even for companies that petitioned for extensions, on January 1, 2008. However, unlike in many other countries, trans fat levels of less than 0.5 grams per serving can be listed as 0 grams trans fat on the food label. According to a study published in the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, without an interpretive footnote or further information on recommended daily value, many consumers do not know how to interpret the meaning of trans-fat content on the Nutrition Facts panel. In fact, without specific prior knowledge about trans fat and its negative health effects, consumers, including those at risk for heart disease, may misinterpret nutrient information provided on the panel. The FDA did not approve nutrient content claims such as "trans fat free" or "low trans fat", as they could not determine a "recommended daily value". Nevertheless, the agency is planning a consumer study to evaluate the consumer understanding of such claims and perhaps consider a regulation allowing their use on packaged foods. However, there is no requirement to list trans fats on institutional food packaging; thus bulk purchasers such as schools, hospitals, and cafeterias are unable to evaluate the trans fat content of commercial food items. The FDA defines trans fats as containing one or more ''trans'' linkage that are not in a conjugated system. This is an important distinction, as it distinguishes non-conjugated synthetic trans fats from naturally occurring fatty acids with conjugated trans double bonds, such as conjugated linoleic acid.
Critics of the plan, including FDA advisor Dr. Carlos Camargo, have expressed concern that the 0.5 gram per serving threshold is too high to refer to a food as free of trans fat. This is because a person eating many servings of a product, or eating multiple products over the course of the day may still consume a significant amount of trans fat. Despite this, the FDA estimates that by 2009, trans fat labeling will have prevented from 600 to 1,200 cases of coronary heart disease and 250 to 500 deaths each year. This benefit is expected to result from consumers choosing alternative foods lower in trans fats as well as manufacturers reducing the amount of trans fats in their products.
The American Medical Association supports any state and federal efforts to ban the use of artificial trans fats in U.S. restaurants and bakeries.
The American Public Health Association adopted a new policy statement regarding trans fats in 2007. These new guidelines, entitled Restricting Trans Fatty Acids in the Food Supply, recommend that the government require nutrition facts labeling of trans fats on all commercial food products. They also urge federal, state, and local governments to ban and monitor use of trans fats in restaurants. Furthermore, the APHA recommends barring the sales and availability of foods containing significant amounts of trans fat in public facilities including universities, prisons, and day care facilities etc. Montgomery County, Maryland approved a ban on partially hydrogenated oils, becoming the first county in the nation to restrict trans fats.
New York City embarked on a campaign in 2005 to reduce consumption of trans fats, noting that heart disease is the primary cause of resident deaths. This has included a Public education campaign (see trans fat pamphlet) and a request to restaurant owners to eliminate trans fat from their offerings voluntarily. Finding that the voluntary program was not successful, New York City's Board of Health in 2006 solicited public comments on a proposal to ban artificial trans fats in restaurants. The board voted to ban trans fat in restaurant food on December 5, 2006. New York was the first large US city to strictly limit trans fats in restaurants. Restaurants were barred from using most frying and spreading fats containing artificial trans fats above 0.5 g per serving on July 1, 2007, and were supposed to have met the same target in all of their foods by July 1, 2008.
Philadelphia also recently passed a ban on trans fats. Philadelphia's City Council voted unanimously to pass a ban on February 8, 2007, which was signed into law on February 15, 2007, by Mayor John F. Street. By September 1, 2007, eateries must cease frying food in trans fats. A year later, trans fat must not be used as an ingredient in commercial kitchens. The law does not apply to prepackaged foods sold in the city. On October 10, 2007, the Philadelphia City Council approved the use of trans-fats by small bakeries throughout the city.
Albany County of New York passed a ban on trans fats. The ban was adopted after a unanimous vote by the county legislature on May 14, 2007. The decision was made after New York City's decision, but no plan has been put into place. Legislators received a letter from Rick J. Sampson, president and CEO of the New York State Restaurant Association, calling on them to "delay any action on this issue until the full impact of the New York City ban is known."
San Francisco officially asked its restaurants to stop using trans fat in January 2008. The voluntary program will grant a city decal to restaurants that comply and apply for the decal. Legislators say the next step will be a mandatory ban.
Chicago also considered a ban on oils containing trans fats for large chain restaurants, and finally settled on a partial ban on oils and posting requirements for fast food restaurants.
On December 19, 2006, Massachusetts state representative Peter Koutoujian filed the first state level legislation that would ban restaurants from preparing foods with trans fats. The statewide legislation has not yet passed. However, the city of Boston did ban the sale of foods containing artificial trans fats at more than 0.5 grams per serving, which is similar to the New York City regulation; there are some exceptions for clearly labeled packaged foods and charitable bake sales.
Maryland and Vermont were considering statewide bans of trans fats as of March 2007.
King County of Washington passed a ban on artificial trans fats effective February 1, 2009.
On July 25, 2008, California became the first state to ban trans fats in restaurants effective January 1, 2010. California restaurants are prohibited from using oil, shortening, and margarine containing artificial trans fats in spreads or for frying, with the exception of deep frying donuts. Donuts and other baked goods will be prohibited from containing artificial trans fats as of January 1, 2011.
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