If the Commission decides to go forward with a legal limit on TFA content of food products, it would not be problematic for margarine producers. For more than a decade now, margarines and spreads’ TFA content is well below the level where there is a health concern. Yet, hydrogenation labelling must be deleted as it is discriminatory and with no added value.
Hydrogenation labelling unclear to consumers
The current labelling requirements for vegetable oils and fats are misleading the consumers and do not help consumers to make proper healthy food choices. Today, vegetable oils and fats have to be labelled on food products, indicating whether full or partial hydrogenation was performed. Yet this compulsory mentioning of full or partial hydrogenation does not give any information on the actual TFA content. Even worse, is not or wrongly understood by consumers, as outlined by the Commission’s report. Consumers think that TFA occur during the full hydrogenation process, while it is actually the opposite!
Margarine products TFA levels already below 2%
Because there is absolutely no mention of possible ruminant TFA presence on food products, the current mandatory labelling stigmatizes the European margarines and spreads industry wrongly. This is difficult to swallow for an industry, which realized major improvements, during the last 20 years, in bringing down the TFA content in their products to a level below 2%. This is a level upon which there is no longer a public health concern according to EFSA.
The industry’s efforts to reduce the TFA level in margarines and spreads include reformulation and optimization of refining processes. Nowadays, the current TFA levels in retail margarines and spreads are well below 2% on fat basis. In business-to-business margarines, TFA content has decreased from 7.1 to 1.4% on fat basis in the last decade. As a consequence, over 60% of the current TFA intake in Western Europe is now coming from ruminant sources.
All TFA sources have detrimental effects
As the current main TFA source in Western European diets is ruminant TFA, and given the fact that both TFA sources are equally ‘detrimental’ to public health, it would be logical that they are dealt with in an equal way. Hence, for IMACE, any new policy regulation on TFA should imply an equal treatment of all TFA sources. This includes the deletion of the mandatory misleading and discriminatory labelling of ‘partially hydrogenated’ versus ‘fully hydrogenated’ vegetable oils.
On 3 December, the European Commission published its report on trans fatty acids (TFA) in foods and in the overall diet of the Union population. The report suggests that setting a legal limit for industrial TFA content would be the most effective measure in terms of public health, consumer protection and compatibility with the single market. The way in which such legal limit could be technically put into practice will require further investigation. An impact assessment will be performed to collect more information and build on the analysis provided by the report. The Commission will also launch a public consultation on TFA to which IMACE will participate.