tfX::the campaign against trans fats in food tfx.org.uk
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Lansley - "eliminate trans fats by voluntary action"

In his latest letter (October 2010) Health Secretary Andrew Lansley says he wants to eliminate trans fats fromt he UK diet - but only "through further voluntary action by the food industry". But as he must be aware, it's not going to happen unless backed up by regulation. Full story plus links, full text of letters, etc.

NICE: ban trans fats!

The National Institute for Clinical Excellence has called for a ban on industrial trans fats in the British diet, arguing that this simple, cheap and effective measure could save 4,500 to 7,000 lives per year in the UK. Full story plus links, key quotes etc.

Are trans fats already illegal?

Under the UK Food Safety Act section 7 which forbids "Rendering food injurious to health", selling foods containing industrial trans fats could already be against the law, according to a letter in the British Medical Journal. Full story.

Ban the trans, argue public health physicians

Two leading public health physicians from the Harvard School of Medicine have written in the British Medical Journal of the overwhelming case for stringent limits on industrial trans fats in food.

"TFA consumption is associated with a substantial risk of heart disease events, including myocardial infarction and death from coronary disease", they report. "This risk is far higher per calorie consumed than for any other dietary macronutrient, including saturated fat ... With increasing supplies of alternatives, the commercial and cost advantages of partially hydrogenated oils are now small. Thus, removing industrial TFAs is one of the most straightforward public health strategies for rapid improvements in health. On the basis of current disease rates, a strategy to reduce consumption of industrial TFAs by even 1% of total energy intake would be predicted to prevent 11 000 heart attacks and 7000 deaths annually in England alone"

Action: Write to your MP asking them to contact both Andrew Lansley MP, the Health Secretary, and Anne Milton MP, the Public Health Minister, to press for stringent limits on industrial trans fats in food. Use this excellent paper by Dariush Mozaffarian and Meir Stampfer to inform your arguments, and ask your MP, the Health Secretary and the Public Health Minister to study it carefully and respond to it.

Doctors demand ban on man-made trans fats

The UK Faculty of Public Health has called on the Government to ban industrial trans fats from the British diet in their public health manifesto. The move is needed to reduce people's risk of suffering a heart attack or a stroke, says the Faculty, which represents 3,300 doctors and public health specialists in the NHS, local government and medical research. News report in the Guardian (18 January 2010), and opinion piece by Alan Maryon-Davis, the Faculty's president. Also picked up by NHS Choices in Call to ban man-made fat.

Regulate trans fats worldwide!

In The rise and fall of trans fat: is the battle won? the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) reviews the state of trans fat regulation and concludes that "Cardiovascular disease is a huge killer worldwide, and it seems a real missed opportunity not to make concerted efforts globally to reduce trans fat in food. It is too soon to claim that the trans fat issue has been dealt with - and focus now needs to turn to the developing world where, in many cases, trans fats have not yet even made it onto the health agenda." Article by Caitlyn Donaldson published in Perspectives in Public Health 129(2):57-58, March 2009,

Trans-free Britain?

The UK food supply is now mostly free of trans fats, we reported on 31/10/08 in Britain goes trans-free!. This remains the case, however serious risks remain in the unpackaged food sectors, since there is still no legal ban - and ignorant or unscrupulous purveyors are still free to poison us. So you could still be getting dangerous dietary trans fat in pubs, take-aways, bakeries, school meals, canteens, hospital food. etc.

EU - petition to ban trans fats

On World Health Day 2008 the Major of Nynäshamn (Sweden) launched an EU trans fat petition, aiming to raise one million signatures in order to make the European Union act against trans fats in foods.

Government to regulate trans fats?

The BBC reports on TV, radio and website that "The government is also due to ask the Food Standards Agency to probe the use of unhealthy 'trans-fats', which have been linked to coronary heart disease, in fast food." See the BBC website article Obesity 'as bad as climate risk' , of 14 October 2007.

Preventing Alzheimer's

tfX campaign founder Oliver Tickell sets out the case for preventing Alzheimer's Disease by simple changes in diet, nutrition and lifestyle, including cutting trans fats. Published in The Ecologist magazine, September 2007: Alzheimer's - the case for prevention (original version)or edited version on The Ecologist website.

Euro-MEPs declare war on trans fats

with a tfX-supported Declaration calling on the Commission to require trans fat labelling, drop its legal action against Denmark's ban, and introduce its own measures to restrict trans fats in Europe's food supply. More ...

McDonalds to go low-trans

McDonalds is to switch to low-trans frying oils made from high-oleic acid varieties of UK-grown rapeseed. The company expects to roll out the new oil, which contains 2% or less trans fatty acids, into all its 1,200 outlets by late 2007. McDonalds is the first fast food chain in the UK to commit to such a move.

BMJ editorial calls for trans labelling

See the original article, Trans fatty acids and coronary heart disease, and the tfX response in which we argue that labelling alone is not enough - unpackaged foods like pub meals, bakery food and take-aways will escape the need to label; and what about people who ignore labels, and their children?

Why won't the Government regulate trans fats?

So asks tfX founder Oliver Tickell in Eschew the fat, published on the Guardian's influential "Comment is Free" website, 5 July 2006.

School food - make it trans-free!

Just why does is the School Food Trust so reluctant to say anything about trans fats and hydrogenated oil? Could it be because over half of its Board members are part of, or close to, the UK food and catering industry?
Action: Write to the School Food Trust and ask ...

The Department for Education & Skills says it wants to make school meals healthier. But its consultation paper Turning the Tables: Transforming School Food ignores the role of trans fats in causing severe health problems. In fact, it only recognises the existence of saturated and unsaturated fats - and thinks that all fats are bad.
Action: Demand Government action to remove hydrogenated oil and trans fats from school food. See the Campaign for trans-free school meals.

Trans fats: stealth killers

Trans fats are stealth killers lurking in our food, causing the early death and debility of many thousands of people a year in the UK. They are mainly found in (partially) hydrogenated vegetable oil, common ingredients in thousands of food products.

According to the Harvard School of Public Health, at least 30,000 people, and probably more like 100,000 people a year in the USA die prematurely from coronary heart disease as a result of eating trans fats. If Britons were dying in similar proportions to population, some 5,000 - 20,000 people would have been dying prematurely every year in the UK, or 15 - 60 people every day.

And that's without looking at the role of trans fats in causing Alzheimer's disease, type 2 diabetes, omega-3 essential fatty acid deficiency and other disabling and life-threatening conditions.

The good news is that action by the food industry and retailers has greatly reduced the volume of trans fat in our diets, as reported exclusively by tfX in October 2008. Hydrogenated vegetable oil is now a rarity in packaged foods sold by Britain's principal retailers - in fact anywhere where the presence of HVO has to be declared.

However the problem is not yet entirely solved:

See also our introduction to how trans fats affect human health, and authoritative quotes about trans fats and health.

tfX aims

We originally aimed for the compulsory labelling of trans fats, as is happening in the US and Canada, as an intermediate stage towards a ban. However we note that British supermarkets have chosen to get hydrogenated oils out of their products altogether. This is a quicker, more immediate and effective solution, apparently more acceptable to the food industry, and the technology is already in place to enable this to happen at little or no cost - as has already been demonstrated by Denmark.

See also our page on alternatives to trans fats.

What are trans fats?

Trans fats are unsaturated oils or fats whose 3-d molecular structure has been alterered, usually by prolonged exposure to high temperature. This happens mainly during hydrogenation: the industrial process that hardens liquid vegetable oils by making them more saturated. Unsaturated oils normally occur in nature in the cis configuration, but during hydrogenation the oils can 'flip' into the damaging (mostly) trans configuration - hence the name 'trans fat'.

Small amounts of natural trans fat also occur in meat and butter, but (contrary to food industry claims) there is no evidence that these are harmful like the synthetic trans fats made from vegetable oil, in the quantities in which they occur. Indeed the naturally-occurring Conjugated Linoleic Acids (CLA) and vaccenic acid, which occur in the trans configuration, are actually beneficial to health.

See also our pages on what trans fats are and the chemistry of trans fats.

Why trans fats?

Hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils - the main dietary source of trans fats - are very useful to the food industry. They are cheap; they have neutral flavour; they melt in the mouth, like butter; and they have very long shelf lives, which they confer to the products that contain them. Unlike other unsaturated oils and fats which go rancid over time, hydrogenated fats are highly resistant to oxidation and rancidity.

Trans fats are therefore found in thousands of everyday food products around the world - though thankfully less so in the UK where the food industry has responded to public pressure. Watch out with margarine, cakes, pies, biscuits, some vegetable oils, cheap chocolate, other confectionery and ice cream, and ready-made meals.

They also occur widely in fast food, including in the UK, as the industry - including local fish and chip shops - often use hydrogenated oil for frying, as well as in shortening. Bakeries also make great use of hydrogenated oil as shortening for pastries and fillings.

As for the fact that trans fats are seriously toxic, causing premature death and misery on a massive scale, much of the wordwide food industry just doesn't care. Only one other industry that treats its customers with the same callous disregard, knowingly selling them products that will lead to unnecessary illness and premature death - the tobacco industry.

See also our page about where trans fats are found.

Please follow the links in the menu for more information about trans fats and our campaign...

Oliver Tickell, tfX.
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