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Limiting industrial trans fatty acids in food to protect consumers


A new European regulation setting a legal limit for industrially-produced trans fatty acids (iTFA) came into force on 14 May. JRC's scientific work has played an important role supporting the introduction of a legal limit to these fats in our food. A high intake of iTFA increases the risk of heart disease, the leading cause of death in the European Union. This limit on their use will protect the consumer and benefit public health throughout the EU.

Biscuits, cakes, donuts, industrial pastries, fried foods of all types... There is no getting away from it, as these products are liked by consumers. However, some of them may contain high amounts of iTFA, introduced during food manufacturing and the intake of iTFA is to be kept to a minimum. Trans fatty acids are a particular type of unsaturated fatty acids.

These occur also naturally in low amounts in food products made from ruminant animals such as dairy and meat from cow, goat or sheep. But the matter of concern are trans fatty acids produced industrially, which can be formed in much higher amounts when vegetable oils are processed into solid fats for better functionality, stability and shelf life by certain industrial processes.

Harmonising EU-level rules

Dietary trans fatty acid intake in the EU has decreased over the last decades. Nevertheless, some food products with high amounts of iTFA are still present on the EU market.

"In 2016, our study on trans fatty acids suggested that a legal limit for iTFA in food would be the most effective measure to reduce their intake", says JRC scientist Jan Wollgast. In April 2019, the European Commission has decided to limit the amount of industrial trans fatty acids in food products to 2 grams per 100 grams of fat.

Some Member States had already introduced such limits on a national level. As of today, the new regulation introduces this legal limit across all the EU. Food which does not comply with the European regulation may continue to be placed on the market until 1 April 2021.

"The European Food Safety Authority concluded that dietary intakes of trans fatty acids should be as low as possible. Today, alternative fats and oils can replace those containing iTFA at no or minimal additional costs", explains Jan Wollgast. A high intake of iTFA has been shown to seriously increase the risk of heart disease - more than any other nutrient on a per calorie basis.

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the European Union and the introduction of the legal limit on iTFA across all the Union protects the consumer and benefits public health. This is a good day for public health in Europe, and hopefully beyond as other countries may follow suit.

Source: European Commission, Joint Research Centre