In the United States, authorities have banned the use of the dangerous trans fats that are widely used in fast foods. The US Food and Drug Administration has given food manufacturers three years to remove the ingredient, which it has deemed unsafe for human consumption. So will Australia’s health authorities follow the US lead?
ELEANOR HALL: In the United States, authorities have banned the use of the dangerous trans fats that are widely used in fast foods.
The US Food and Drug Administration has given food manufacturers three years to remove the ingredient which it has deemed unsafe for human consumption.
So will Australia’s health authorities follow the US lead?
Nick Grimm reports.
NICK GRIMM: Americans have long-known they have a problem with trans fat, what’s known less colloquially in the food industry as partially hydrogenated oils.
CBS NEWS: They are the ingredients that make cookies and cakes taste better and pie crusts flakier.
NICK GRIMM: In 2007 New York slapped a ban on their use in the city’s restaurants and in 2011 all foods containing more than a small amount of trans fat were barred from California.
Almost two years ago the US Food and Drug Administration first foreshadowed it was ready to take that approach to a national level.
US NEWSREADER: The FDA intends to ban them…
NICK GRIMM: The then FDA commissioner Dr Margaret Hamburg outlined her concerns to CBS.
MARGARET HAMBURG: Trans fats increase your risk for heart disease and if we can reduce the levels of trans fat currently in the American diet, we can probably save about 7,000 people from a preventable death and prevent about 20,000 heart attacks.
NICK GRIMM: Trans fats do occur naturally in many foods but artificial trans fats were once wrongly thought to be healthier than other fats and a product that could make food look and taste better and extend its shelf-life.
Here’s US nutritionist Patricia Greenberg speaking here to the American ABC network.
PATRICIA GREENBERG: It was developed as margarine and as shortening and it was the wonder food.
It held everything together beautifully, worked wonderful in cooking, in baking.
More and more researchers have found that trans fatty acids actually alter the chemical structure of the lining of the cell, which ultimately could lead to more heart disease and build up of plaque in the arteries.
JOSH EARNEST: Partially hydrogenated oils, the primary dietary source of artificial trans fat and processed foods are not generally recognised as safe for use in human food.
That is a scientific conclusion that they reached based on scientific evidence.
NICK GRIMM: And that’s White House spokesman Josh Earnest voicing the Obama administration’s support for the FDA’s ban.
Food manufacturers have been given three years to find substitutes for artificial trans fats in their products and if they can argue that there is no substitute available, the FDA may consider granting exemptions in some cases.
But as the BBC discovered some Americans still don’t like being told what to eat.
AMERICAN FEMALE: I think it’s better for the overall health of Americans but I do think that Americans can make their own decisions about what they want to ingest in their bodies.
AMERICAN MALE: I think it’s a little bit of an overreach, you can’t regulate everything ’cause what’s to stop somebody from going out to a bakery and going to an ice cream shop and people are going to consume what they want to consume.
NICK GRIMM: But here in Australia the Heart Foundation has welcomed the FDA’s ban.
Heart Foundation dietician Shane Landon.
SHANE LANDON: Certainly I think it’s a wise move. They are a particularly nasty form of fat and from that point of view I think they’ve recognised that.
NICK GRIMM: The Heart Foundation is urging Australian regulators to require food manufacturers here to include more detailed product information about the amount of trans fat in food being sold.
But the Australian Food and Grocery Council argues that consumption of trans fat is already far lower in Australia than it is in the US, removing any need for an outright ban in this country.
That view backed by the well-known nutritionist Catherine Saxelby.
CATHERINE SAXELBY: I don’t believe we have the same problem here in Australia that the Americans do with their level of trans fat.
I don’t think a ban is necessary because the food industry has already moved, over the past 10 years I’d say or more, to lower the trans fat in many food products.
And the surveys show that we’re consuming well below the recommended WHO (World Health Organization) level, which is less than 1 per cent of our total intake coming from trans fats, we’re well below that.
And the Heart Foundation repeatedly says that the problem with the Aussie diet is the saturated fat, which is another type of that we consume in vaster quantities than trans fats.
So no, I don’t think we need a ban on trans fats here.
NICK GRIMM: Meanwhile the Public Health Association of Australia warns any bans on trans fats would be difficult for authorities to implement because trans fats are often the by-product of the manufacturing process.
It’s also concerned that companies will simply substitute trans fats with other types of harmful fats such as palm oil.
ELEANOR HALL: Nick Grimm reporting.