Govt making policy to limit trans fat in foods

Mohammad Al Amin

11 January, 2021 12:00 AM printer

The government is working on formulating a policy to check industrially produced trans fat in all foods and partially hydrogenated oils (PHO) in a bid to reduce deaths linked to trans fat intake.

The policy will set a mandatory limit for trans fat in food items, said the authorities concerned.

The move came after the World Health Organization (WHO) sought Bangladesh’s urgent action to deal with trans fat in a bid to avoid deaths from its intake.

“We’ve already formulated a draft policy on using trans fat in foods. Changes are being made to the draft as per suggestions put forward by experts,” Abdul Kayowm Sarker, chairman of Bangladesh Food Safety Authority (BFSA), told the Daily Sun.

Mentioning that the draft will be finalised after taking opinions of all stakeholders, he said it will take around six months to complete all the processes.

Alongside making the draft policy, the BFSA has also been carrying out awareness programmes to make people aware of the harmful effects of the excessive intake of trans fat. “We’ve been carrying out awareness programmes in divisions, districts and upazilas to make people aware of the harmful impacts of the excessive intake of trans fat,” said the BFSA chairman.

The BFSA has decided to make regulations limiting trans fat to 2 per cent of the total fat contents of all fats, oils and foods.

The Technical Committee on Trans Fats formed by the BFSA in a meeting in November last decided in principle to formulate the policy.

It also prepared a position paper to regulate the trans fat in foods.

As per the decision, the BFSA is now working on the draft policy.

“We had our last meeting in the first week of December to make the draft policy to control the harmful trans fat in foods. It’ll take around another six months to complete all the processes,” Monzur Morshed Ahmed, chief of the technical committee and a member of the BFSA, told the Daily Sun.

They will take opinions from all stakeholders, including businessmen, before finalising the draft, he said, adding that then they will send it to the Food Ministry.

The committee has also been working to implement the WHO recommendations in Bangladesh within the stipulated time. “The policy will be formulated in consultation with the industries and commerce

ministries and businessmen concerned,” Manzur said.

BFSA sources said the draft policy on trans fat might be finalised at a meeting scheduled to be held on January 19 next and they aim to complete all the procedures by June 22 to get it ready.

WHO has set a global target of eliminating industrially produced trans-fatty acids from the food supply chain by 2023. Member countries have to lower the limit of trans fat in foods to 2 per cent.

However, Bangladesh did not implement the REPLACE action package announced by the WHO in 2018 regarding the trans fat in foods.

Health experts said the industrially-produced trans fat, known as dalda or bonospoti ghee in local markets, is a silent toxic killer while the high level trans fat in food increases bad cholesterol (LDL) and reduces good cholesterol (HDL) in human body.

An intake of excessive level of trans fat can cause plaque in blood vessels, disrupting the flow of blood and leading to early heart attacks, resulting in premature deaths.

In its report titled “WHO Report on Global Trans fat Elimination 2020” published on September 9, 2020, the World Health Organization said 15 countries, including Bangladesh, account for approximately two-thirds of the worldwide deaths linked to trans fat intake.

Of these, four countries -- Canada, Latvia, Slovenia, the USA -- 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.

But the remaining 11 countries -- Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Ecuador, Egypt, India, Iran, Mexico, Nepal, Pakistan, Republic of Korea -- still need to take urgent action, said the UN agency.

Former Additional Health Secretary and Bangladesh Country Lead of Global Health Advocacy Incubator (GHAI) Muhammad Ruhul Quddus said, “We’re happy as the government has taken an initiative to make a policy to control the use of harmful trans fat in foods. At the same time, we urge the government to accelerate the initiative and finalise the policy as soon as possible to save lives.”

Different organisations, including PROGGA (Knowledge for Progress) and National Heart Foundation Hospital and Research Institute, have been carrying out campaigns to make people aware of the harmful impacts of excessive use of the trans fat and they also have been urging the authorities concerned to limit trans fat to 2 per cent and speedily implement the policy.

“We thank the government for taking the initiative to make a policy to control the trans fat in foods. However, the process of building a trans fat-free Bangladesh can’t be delayed for any excuse,” ABM Zubair, PROGGA executive director, told the Daily Sun.

A study of the National Heart Foundation has found that about 92 percent of sampled PHO brands in Dhaka city were containing trans-fatty acid (TFA) at a much higher level than the 2 per cent one set by WHO.