India Needs to Notify All Pending Regulations to Eliminate Trans Fats by 2022,  September 18, 2020

WHO launched the second progress report on global trans fats elimination 2020 at a virtual high-level event in collaboration with Resolve to Save Lives, an initiative of Vital Strategies. The report highlights the current global, regional and national situations and progress over the past year in countries; and discusses challenges and opportunities for future action.

Fifteen countries account for approximately two-thirds of the worldwide deaths linked to trans fats intake. Of these, four (Canada, Latvia, Slovenia, United States of America) have implemented WHO-recommended best-practice policies since 2017, either by setting mandatory limits for industrially produced trans fats to 2 per cent of oils and fats in all foods or banning partially hydrogenated oils (PHO) but the remaining 11 countries including India (Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and Pakistan and so on) still need to take urgent action, according to WHO.

Countries such as India that have previously implemented less restrictive measures, are now updating policies to align with best practice. In December 2018, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) proposed reducing this limit to 2 per cent and eliminating industrially produced TFA in the food supply by 2022, a year ahead of the global target.

In August 2019, the FSSAI proposed aligning India’s regulations with global best practice that apply the 2 per cent TFA limit to all food products by January 2022 but it has not been notified yet. India has had less restrictive limits in effect since 2013, as per WHO.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus,director-general, WHO, said, “In a time when the whole world is fighting the Covid-19 pandemic, we must make every effort to protect people’s health. That must include taking all steps possible to prevent non-communicable diseases that can make them more susceptible to the coronavirus, and cause premature death. So our goal of eliminating trans fats by 2023 must not be delayed.”

“Scientific evidence suggests that every 2 per cent of calorie intake that comes from trans  fats, a person’s heart disease risk increases by an incredible 23 per cent.  Indians consume a lot of snacks which are made from vanaspati, a very rich source of trans fats. FSSAI needs to continue with campaigns like ‘Eat Right’, ‘Eat Healthy’ and ‘Eat Safe’ and need cut down on salt, sugar and oil consumption by 30 per cent in three years,” said Dr Eram Rao, Associate Professor, Delhi University.

To ensure effective implementation of TFAs related regulations and policies and to get the desired health benefits out of these, periodic monitoring of TFA exposure by measuring blood levels in various population groups is essential, according to Dr Avula Laxmaiah, (scientist), head, public health nutrition, ICMR, Hyderabad.

George Cheriyan, director, Cuts International, said, ‘The present pandemic highlights the importance of trans fats-free food since people with comorbidity and preexisting Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs) are more vulnerable, and at higher risk from Covid-19 virus. Even in normal situation, 61 per cent of total deaths in India annually are attributed to NCDs. So Food Safety and Standards (Food Product Standards and Additives) Regulations, 2011, amended in 2019, limiting trans-fat in oils, fats and foods by 2 per cent, should be notified without any further delay.”

There is strong need for notifying all the pending regulations at the FSSAI level, all the states including Rajasthan, need to take serious measures to develop the trans fats testing and monitoring facilities. The oils and fats manufacturing industry, small, medium and large, also needs to use alternative fats like vegetable oils to replace the TFAs and partially hydrogenated fats.

The food industry also needs to be pledged to eliminate using TFAs and PHVOs in all the foods. The consumer organisations also need to play an effective role in consumer awareness about health harms, generate evidence based data and being an active part in policy making so that India is able to eliminate the bad trans fats from its entire food chains in coming two years by 2022 as committed by Government of India.

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