India has unveiled regulations to limit trans fat in oils and fats,an important step for public health that will prevent thousands of deaths every year.The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has announced that all edible refined oils, vanaspati, bakery shortening, margarines, vegetable fat spreads and mixed fat spreadsmay only contain up to 3% trans fats by January 2021 and 2% or less trans fats by January 2022. The move is the first step by FSSAI towards fulfilling its commitments made in 2018 to reduce trans-fats in both edible oils and in all foods.
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Consumption of trans fats is associated with increased risk of heart diseases. According to 2017 estimates, India has one of the highest burden of heart disease deaths due to high trans-fat intake out of all countries in the world. More than 1.5 million deaths take place each year due to coronary heart disease, and nearly 5% of these deaths each year (71,000) can be attributed to trans fats intake. Dr Sundeep Mishra, Professor of Cardiology, AIIMS, New Delhi said, “Eliminating industrially produced trans-fatty acids can save 17 million lives over the next 25 years. WHO has recommended that trans-fat intake as a % of energy should not exceed 1%. Regulation and enforcement are the only ways to remove this toxic ingredient from the supply.”
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The notification of this regulation is a critical step since the World Health Organization (WHO) had called for global elimination of trans fat by 2023.According to WHO’s REPLACE second annual report released in September 2020, around 40 countries have already enacted the best practice policies to eliminate trans fats. These best practice policieslimit industrially produced levels of trans fats to 2% or less of total fats in all foods. The new regulations announced by FSSAI will bring levels of trans fats in allfats and oils down to the level recommended by the WHO.
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Consumer organizations leaders have also welcomed the new regulations passed by FSSAI. Ashim Sanyal, COO of Consumer VOICE, said, “India has achieved a lifesaving milestone with FSSAI regulating trans fats to 3% now and 2% by 2022 in oils and fats. This comes at the time of a pandemic where the NCD burden has risen. Cardiovascular diseases along with diabetes are proving fatal for covid patients. The missing element of trans fats in all foods is a pain point and hopefully FSSAI will address this as well before January 2022 to eliminate chemical trans fatty acids from the Indian platter."
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Besides committing to limiting the amount of trans-fats in edible oils and fats, the FSSAI had also released a draft notification in 2019 seeking to reducing the levels of trans-fats in all foods, which is still to be enacted. Once adopted, this additional regulation, will place India in the ranks of countries with best practice trans-fat policies in place, according to WHO standards.
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Dr.Rajan Sankar, Director Nutrition, Tata Trusts, said “We commend FSSAI for enacting this regulation and setting an example for the South Asian region; it is important now that FSSAI enacts the same regulation in foods and focus on the enforcement in edible oil and food industries to reach the goal of trans fats free India by 2022.”
Industrially produced trans fats are created artificially during the hydrogenation processes of vegetable oils, and resulting in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (PHVOs). PHVOs are the major source of trans fats in India and are found in vanaspati, margarines, and shortenings. Vanaspati is used in preparation of Indian traditional sweets (mithais) such as ladoo, imarti, jalebi, and deep-fried foods such as aloo tikki and bhatura. Margarine and bakery shortenings are the most common fats used in baked goods such as cakes, pastries, and puffs.
Some trans fats are also formed during manufacturing process when a high temperature refinement process is used to create vegetable oils. Experts in the edible oil industry say that technologies are available to make trans fats free products for baking and frying.