Trans fats: five things to know ahead of this week's plenary vote 

 
 

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Should we have legal limits on the amount of trans fatty acids in food in the EU? ©AP Images/ European Union-EP 

Industrial trans fats can be found in anything from fast food to bakery products, chips and margarine, however they can also prove bad for your health. Scientific research has linked heavy consumption of them with obesity, diabetes, infertility, Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular diseases. MEPs vote this week on a resolution calling for limits on these artificially produced fats.

What trans fats are and where you can find them


Trans fats or trans fatty acids (TFAs) are a type of unsaturated fatty acid that have been widely used in the food industry since the 1950s. Foods that may be high in trans-fats include ready-made meals, frying fat for industrial use, margarine used in pastry, pre-packed bakery products, cakes, biscuits and wafers, microwave popcorn, deep-fried foods and soups and sauces.


How they affect your health


According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the evidence of trans fat posing a risk to your health is overwhelming. It recommends reducing it to less than 1% of your total daily energy intake.


German EPP member Renate Sommer, one of the MEPs behind this resolution that will be voted on this week, said: “The excessive consumption of trans fatty acids increases the risk of heart disease. Coronary heart disease is conservatively estimated to account for some 660,000 deaths annually in the EU or some 14% of overall mortality.”


Romanian S&D member  Daciana Sârbu, one of the other MEPs involved with the resolution, said: “Trans fats are a significant factor in causing heart disease, one of Europe's biggest killers. Trans fats bring more risk of heart disease than any other macro-nutrient on a per calorie basis."


The situation in the United States


Food producers have been obliged to indicate the presence of trans fatty acids in their products on labels since 2006. This has led to the food industry significantly cutting back on how many trans fatty acids they use.


The situation in the EU


The European Union does not currently have legislation regulating the content of trans fats in food products or requiring their labelling. However, several EU countries do:


  • Denmark, Austria, Hungary and Latvia have legal limits on industrially produced trans fats in foods
  • Belgium,  Germany,  the Netherlands, Poland, the United Kingdom and Greece have voluntary measures  to  reduce trans fats
  • Some countries have dietary recommendations such as Bulgaria, Malta, Slovakia, the UK, Sweden and Finland.

In a report on trans fats published in December 2015, the European Commission concluded that a legal limit for industrial trans fatty acids content would be the most effective measure for tackling the problem.


What Parliament is working on

 

MEPs debate trans fats content in food and the possibility of imposing a legal limit on Tuesday evening and vote on a resolution the following morning.


Sommer, who is one of the MEPs behind the resolution being voted on, said she believed introducing mandatory limits on trans fatty acids would be the most effective solution: “Through the introduction of legal limits for industrial trans fatty acids e.g. in Denmark, which brought in a national limit of 2%, deaths caused by heart disease were reduced significantly."


Sârbu added: “The EU should introduce legal limits on the amount of industrial trans fats in processed food. This will reduce exposure to the biggest sources of trans fats and save lives. This has already been done in Denmark where deaths from cardiovascular disease have decreased since the limits were introduced.”