Forced to own up to the killer fat in our food
FOOD manufacturers will be ordered to reveal the amount of "killer fats" lurking in their products as part of a plan to reduce the UK's shocking death toll from heart disease.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) wants all products to list the amount of trans fats, the man-made substance found in highly processed meals and snacks ranging from crisps to breakfast cereals.
Trans fats are particularly bad for clogging arteries and could be responsible for as many as 10,000 deaths a year from heart disease in the UK alone.
Current food labelling laws do not require manufacturers to list the quantity of trans fats in a product - worse, they can legitimately be included as a non-saturated fat.
The shortcomings in the law mean millions of consumers each day eat a packet of crisps without realising it has contributed as much as 3.5g towards their daily "safe" limit of 5g of trans fats.
Trans fats are a byproduct of the process used to thicken vegetable oils as a replacement for unhealthy saturated fats and can often be found in "healthy option" meals as well as fast food.
The body is unable to deal properly with trans fats, making them more dangerous even than saturated fats.
Officials at the FSA have now decided it is time to act and are pressing for a change in the laws, which are controlled from Brussels.
A spokeswoman said: "The agency recognises the need to improve the labelling of trans fats in foods and is pressing for changes at European level when the Commission publishes a new proposal.
"The agency is also working on a strategy to reduce the levels of saturated fat in people's diets. The strategy will take account of opportunities to reduce trans fats and make sure that reformulations to reduce the content of saturated fat do not result in replacing this with trans fat."
The move marks the first major effort in the UK to clamp down on trans fats in food.
It comes after legislation was passed last month in the United States requiring all food labels to include the amount of trans fat in their products.
Major American food manufacturers including Kellogg's and Kraft have begun removing the fats from their foods as they faced a backlash from consumers seeking a healthier diet.
But in the UK and the rest of Europe, food manufacturers must only specify the total volume of fat and the amount of saturated fat in their products.
As trans fats are not classed as saturated fats they only need to be included in the total fat content. Health campaigners say this misleads consumers into believing products are healthier than they really are.
The FSA recommends the daily intake of trans fats should not exceed 5g, but many consumers are totally unaware of the range of popular foods that contain the damaging synthetic fats.
Cheap brands of crisps and fried fast food and burgers all contain shockingly high levels of trans fat: there are 6g of trans fats in a single large portion of McDonalds fries.
Elmlea imitation double cream has around 2g of trans fat in every 100g tub, while filled biscuits such as custard creams can contain as much as 2g of the synthetic fats in a packet. Nutritional drinks such as Horlicks also contain trans fats.
"The use of trans fats in foods is a nightmare," said Dr Alexandra Richardson, an expert on child nutrition at Oxford University.
"The upper safe limit of these fats is zero. Unlike other naturally occurring fats they serve no nutritional purpose at all."
Trans fats are produced when the food industry converts unsaturated vegetable oils into solid fat by adding hydrogen to the oil molecules to thicken it.
The process was commonly used to make margarine spreads as consumers attempted to cut saturated fat from their diets.
But it is exactly this thickening process that causes these fats to clog in arteries and raise cholesterol levels.
Scientific studies have shown that trans fats are difficult to break down and can even effect the bodies ability to use healthier unsaturated fats.
A recent report produced by the European Food Safety Authority stated the effect of trans fats on heart health were even greater than saturated fats.
Denmark banned trans fats from all food in 2003 and the Canadian government is also attempting to limit the levels of trans fats in food products.
Oliver Tickell, founder of the Campaign Against Trans Fats in Food, said: "Improving labelling is a start but it will only benefit those people who bother to read them.
"The people who are most at risk, such as children and those from deprived areas, are unlikely to give the labels much thought, so a complete ban would have far more effect and produce faster results."
Many UK food manufacturers are now responding to growing pressure to remove trans fats from their foods.
Marks & Spencer plans to have removed all trans fats from its products by April, while supermarkets Sainsbury's and Tesco have both vowed to cut levels in certain brands.
Unilever, which makes Elmlea, has also managed to cut trans fats from its range of sauces such as Chicken Tonight and Hellman's range.
The Co-op will later this year produce the UK's first product to carry a label detailing the level of trans fat in its own brand Cheese Twists.
Last night a spokeswoman for the Food and Drink Federation said: "The UK food and drink manufacturing industry is fully committed to reducing the level of trans fats to as low as is technically possible."
HIDDEN HEALTH RISK
IN THE United States all food products are legally obliged to have a label with the amount of trans fat they contain, but in the UK consumers are still in the dark about how much of the deadly fat is in their food.
Here we show some of the fat contents hidden in popular products.
Large McDonald's fries
Total fat 22.5g
Saturated fat 3.5g
Trans fat 6g
Big Mac burger
Total fat 22.8g
Saturated fat 9.8g
Trans fat 1.5g
KFC chicken strips and regular fries
Total fat 28.9g
Saturated fat 3.9g
Trans fat 4.4g
Bag of crisps (42g)
Total fat 11g
Saturated fat 2g
Trans fat 3.2g
Some major brands such as Walkers have taken steps to make their products healthier
Custard Cream filled biscuits (30g)
Total fat 6g
Saturated fat 1g
Trans fat 2g
10 chicken nuggets
Total fat 20g
Saturated fat 2g
Trans fat 2.5g
Saxby's ready-rolled pastry
Trans fat 2.5g
Elmlea double imitation cream 100g
Total fat 35g
Saturated fat 24g
Trans fat 2g
Linda McCartney deep country pies
Total fat 13.1g
Trans fat 0.5g
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