Letter from the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Public Health Melanie Johnson MP to Graham Brady MP

6 November 2003

Dear Graham:

Thank you for your letter of 30 April 2003...regarding hydrogenated fat in food.

Trans fatty acids, formed during the hydrogenation process of fats, may have undesirable effects on blood cholesterol and may increase the risk of coronary heart disease.  The present average intake of trans fatty acids in Britain is about 5g (2% of food energy).  Current recommendations are that trans fatty acids should provide no more than 2% of total energy in the diet and advice is that people should consider decreasing the total amount of trans fat in the diet.

[Comments by Stephen Joseph, CEO of BanTransFats.com:

1.  The assertion that British consumers are eating only 5 grams of trans fats per day is ludicrous.  The real figure is at least 11 grams per day, and some people may consume 20 grams per day or more. 

2. The recommendation that trans fats should comprise no more than 2% of total energy in the diet is apparently designed to match the assertion that British consumers are only eating that much on average anyway.  The British Government is saying that people in British do not eat too much trans fat, which is sheer nonsense and nothing but pandering to the food industry.  The bottom line is that nobody should be eating any trans fats produced by partially hydrogenated oil.  Zero!

3. The recommendation that trans fat intake should not exceed more than 2% of their total food energy (in other words all the calories in a day) is not equivalent to the Danish Government's far more restrictive rule that trans fats cannot exceed more than 2% of oils and fats.]

The Food Labeling Regulations 1996 (as amended) already require hydrogenated fat to be identified as such in the ingredient list on the label when it has been used as an ingredient in food.  However, if hydrogenated fat is part of a compound ingredient (like the sponge finger in a trifle) that make up less than 25% of the finished product it is not required to be mentioned in the ingredient list, although a manufacturer may do so voluntarily.  The rule is currently under review at EU level.

[Comment by Stephen Joseph, CEO of BanTransFats.com: It is a good thing that this rule is under review by the EU, because a product can be laden with trans fats and the consumers will have no way of knowing it.]

Any declaration of the amount of trans fatty acids in a food is subject to the rules on nutrition labeling, which are harmonized at EU level through Directive 90/496/EEC.  Under the current rules, nutrition labeling is voluntary unless a nutrition claim, such as 'low fat,' about the food is made.  Where nutrition labeling is given it must be provided in one of two main formats.  Separate identification of the amount of trans fatty acids, as a component of the total fat content of the food, is not required unless a nutrition claim about them is made.

[Comment by Stephen Joseph, CEO of BanTransFats.com: Britain and the EU need proper labelling of trans fats immediately.  Voluntary labelling means no labelling.]

Identification of trans fatty acids in the nutrition label could support healthy eating messages and may enable people to decrease their consumption. 

The Food Standards Agency, which represents the UK Government on nutrition labeling issues, is pressing for appropriate changes to European Union rules to make nutrition information on food labels more accessible to the consumer.  The European Commission has initiated a review of the current rules on nutrition labeling, which includes consideration of declarations of fatty acids in foods.

The Agency is already pressing for revised European Union rules requiring all foods to carry full nutrition labeling in a clear format which consumers can use effectively and has commissioned consumer research to define the ideal content and format for nutrition labeling.  The findings of this research will be fed into this review.


Melanie Johnson MP

© 2003 BanTransFats.com, Inc.