Hidden danger - trans fats in foods

CHOICE finds some manufacturers still sneak unhealthy trans fats into our foods.
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  • Updated:26 Jun 2009

04.What's being done?

Food Standards Australia New Zealand

Although Australia’s regulator, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) wants to see industrially produced trans fats removed from the food supply, it’s not in favour of requiring trans fats to be labelled. FSANZ argues, based on a survey of consumer responses in the US (carried out in 2003, before labelling was introduced), that introducing trans fat labelling in Australia would have only a very small effect on consumption of trans fats. It further argues we shouldn’t rely on the approach taken in other countries, but take into account the fact that dietary intakes here are already low by international standards.

However, CHOICE isn’t convinced.

FSANZ estimates that on average Australians eat 1.4g of trans fats per day, which is well below both the WHO’s recommended maximum daily intake and below the average daily intake of trans fats in the US, Canada and Europe. However, averages can be deceptive. FSANZ’s statistics also reveal that more than a million Australians are currently putting their health at risk by eating more than the WHO’s recommended maximum.

Processed foods that make claims such as “low cholesterol” or “high in polyunsaturates“ are already required to state the level of trans fats on the label. Most cooking oils and margarine-type spreads fall into this category and give a breakdown of their fat composition. It’s an indication of how effective labelling can be that of the dozens of such products on supermarket shelves we found only two containing more than about 1% of the total fat as trans – You’ll Love Coles Vegetable Oil with 4.6% and You’ll Love Coles Sunflower Oil with 1.8%. 

What are manufacturers doing about trans fats?

According to FSANZ, the industry seems ready to and capable of responding to market demand for lower trans fats in foods, claiming all the manufacturers it contacted plan to reduce trans fats levels in their products. CHOICE had a more mixed response.

  • Patties Foods (Herbert Adams and Four'N Twenty) told us they don’t normally test for trans fats, but do use low levels of trans fats in some of their products, and are working with the National Heart Foundation towards healthier products.
  • McDonald’s introduced a vegetable oil blend in November 2006 that contains less than 1% trans fat. A spokesperson said they continue to look for opportunities to improve the nutrition profile of their menu.
  • Burns and Ricker Bagel Crisps’ importer told us they are working with their US supplier to reduce the amount of trans fat to the previous low level.
  • Sara Lee said they are working with their suppliers to seek alternative fats low in trans but which don’t compromise the quality of their products.
  • Krispy Kreme said they aim to introduce a low trans and low saturated fat product by the end of 2009.

Suitable margarines and cooking oils low in trans fats are now available, and there’s no evidence that changing to these fats affects the quality, cost or availability of food. Food manufacturers and fast-food outlets could change their practices if there were more incentive for them to do so.


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