From the Editor: trans fats proposal
By Colleen Cross
Health Canada wants to add industrially produced partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) to its “List of Contaminants and Other Adulterating Substances in Foods,” a move that would effectively ban their use in Canada by the summer of 2018.
Artificial trans fats are industrially produced partially hydrogenated oils sometimes used in the production of baked and packaged goods – including crackers, cookies, microwave popcorn and coffee creamers – to extend shelf life. The proposed definition applies to PHOs used in foods destined for human consumption: a broad definition that will encompass industrial production and restaurant preparation.
According to the World Health Organization, these fats raise bad cholesterol levels, lower good cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease. In 2009 the WHO called for the elimination of artificial trans fats from the world food supply.
Denmark and other European countries got on board and in 2015 the U.S. FDA pronounced PHOs not “generally recognized as safe.” Canada has lagged on this initiative and has only a patchwork of regulations in place, notably in British Columbia.
You may be skeptical that an outright ban will happen. In 2004, MPs from the main parties supported an NDP motion giving the Liberal government one year to bring in regulatory changes to effectively ban artificial trans fats. The government, in careful Canadian fashion, struck a task force to study the subject and make recommendations.
Voluntary measures put in place at the task force’s recommendation have not worked. A 2011 survey of approximately 10,000 prepackaged and restaurant foods found that many foods still did not meet the voluntary targets set.
But this new push to ban trans fats feels different coming as it does near the end of the FDA’s three-year deadline for food makers to eliminate them. It makes sense for Canada to follow suit given the free movement of packaged food products over the border although it’s unclear whether the U.S. ban will improve choice for Canadians or turn us into a dumping ground for products the U.S. won’t accept.
We have a lot to gain from a ban. Canadians have one of the highest intakes of dietary trans fats in the world, as a 1995 national survey suggests – more than four times the recommended limit of 2 g per day. At last count, 90 per cent of Canadian adults and children still exceed recommended daily limits on trans fats.
Although in 2005 mandatory nutrition labelling of prepackaged foods brought average intake down to 4.9 g per day, the proportion is still unacceptably high.
However you feel about government regulation of industry and the hardships it may pose for food manufacturing, removing these harmful trans fats from products is a good thing and, as many experts point out, will save lives. It follows the science.
Restaurants and manufacturers will bear the brunt of the costs to change processes and find alternatives, but these changes will impact the vending industry. If it costs more to manufacture safer products, it will cost more for retailers, vending operators and in turn the public to purchase them.
But this broad regulation is good for consumers and good for those who serve them because it puts vending on a level playing field with convenience and other retailers.
It is in your best interest – and good for your image – to stay on the cutting edge of healthy offerings, which many are doing by adopting measures like CAMA’s well-thought-out healthy vending program.
New generations of customers now associate vending machines with speed and innovation rather than guilty snacking. I foresee the day when they form part of a healthy food industry that is reading from the same page and aligned not only with what customers want in the short term but what they need in the long term for a balanced life