March 15, 2010
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Trans fats are found in many cakes, biscuits, pies and chips.
The Faculty of Public Health (FPH) in the U.K. is urging British lawmakers to ban trans-fats from the British food supply because the artificial fats are causing heart attacks, strokes, and other serious diseases. Comprised of 3,300 doctors and health specialists, FPH hopes to follow in the footsteps of places like Denmark, Austria, and Switzerland which have all banned trans-fats from their food supplies.
Trans-fats are derived from vegetable oils that have been chemically modified. They bear no nutritional value but are used by food manufacturers to bulk up foods and extend their shelf life. Typically labeled as hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated, these artificial fats are commonly found in processed baked goods and desserts, pastries, and fast foods as well as in margarine and shortening.
Experts recognize that trans-fats increase levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol which can lead to serious health problems like heart disease, diabetes and stroke. Because heart disease rates are already very high in the U.K., FPH and others hope to see trans-fats eradicated in order to improve overall public health.
The Royal Society for Public Health, the Royal College of General Practitioners, and the National Health Forum all agree with FPH about the dangers of trans-fats and are urging their removal. Since data shows that over 250,000 Britons suffer from a heart attack or stroke every year and almost 140,000 of them die as a result, these groups believe it is crucial that government officials reevaluate their position on trans-fats.
Alan Johnson, former British health secretary, requested back in 2007 that the Food Standards Agency perform an investigation into trans-fats. When the agency declared that all was well and that people were consuming on average far less than the government-established maximums for trans-fats, no action was taken. Citing this previous find, the Department of Health continues to oppose banning trans-fats.
Many British food producers are voluntarily removing trans-fats from their products to meet consumer demand, including all the members of the British Retail Consortium who pledged in 2006 to remove trans-fats from their products. These reduction efforts and others have led to an overall drop in trans-fat consumption to one percent of the total energy being derived from foods.
As it stands, there is no law mandating that manufacturers even have to list trans-fats on their ingredient labels, a transparency failure that many hope will be addressed by government officials. At the very least, people should know whether or not the foods they buy contain trans-fats so they can make informed purchasing decisions.