As U.S. cuts trans fats, still no ban in Canada
Published Wednesday, June 17, 2015 9:52AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, June 17, 2015 12:37PM EDT
While the U.S. is moving to phase out all artificial trans fats from foods, with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration calling them "a public health concern," their use is still permitted in Canada.
Trans fat appears in some foods, such as meat, naturally, but artificial trans fats are primarily found in partially hydrogenated oils, which are oils that have been turned into a solid with the addition of hydrogen.
The fats extend the shelf life of some oils used for deep frying, keep baked goods, frosting and refrigerated dough from drying out, and add a creamy texture to such things as coffee creamers and margarines.
The FDA says it has determined that the trans fats in hydrogenated oils are not “generally recognized as safe" and has given food makers three years to get rid of them.
In Canada, health advocates have been calling for a trans fat ban for a decade or more. The Heart and Stroke Foundation says trans fats are "at least five times more harmful" than saturated fat on a gram by gram basis, and are responsible for thousands of cardiac deaths every year in Canada. That's because trans fats not only raise "bad" cholesterol, they lower "good" cholesterol.
Health Canada asked the food industry in 2007 to reduce or eliminate trans fats from their products over the next two years. Then-health minister Tony Clement vowed to monitor the food industry and bring in regulations if the voluntary approach didn't work.
With surveys suggesting many consumers wanted to see trans fats eliminated, many manufacturers responded and altered their recipes.
When Health Canada's two-year voluntary period expired in 2009, its own testing suggested that 25 per cent of food products still contained significant trans fat. And yet no regulations were introduced. Even today, more than seven years after Clement's promise, there are still no regulations limiting trans fat in Canada.
British Columbia went its own way in 2009, when it restricted artificial trans fats in all foods prepared and served in the province, including in res¬taurants, bakeries, schools, and health care institutions.
On Tuesday, current Health Minister Rona Ambrose said her office had been aware the FDA was announcing the trans fat phase-out this week. She said Health Canada has been in discussions with the food industry about a potential ban, but did not say when and if it would happen.
"I know Health Canada is looking at what FDA has done and their science behind that," Ambrose told reporters.
She added that Canada was one of the first countries to require food manufacturers to list the amount of trans fats on their labels. She also said Canadians are consuming less than half the amount of trans fats they did a decade ago.
But with research suggesting there is no safe level of trans fat consumption, many nutrition advocates say that is not enough.
"We are far away from meeting the World Health Organization recommendations and it's too expensive and too dangerous to remain in the food supply," Bill Jeffery, national co-ordinator of the Centre for Science in the Public Interest, told CTV News Tuesday.
Reports suggest the food industry has pushed against a full ban. The Food & Consumer Products of Canada, which represents many food manufacturers in Canada, says voluntary efforts to reduce trans fats are working.
Even with the voluntary bans, nutrition advocates have long noted that many Canadians may not be aware of how much trans fat they're eating. Under food labelling regulations in both Canada and the U.S., any food with less than half of a gram of trans fat per serving is allowed to round down the trans fat level to "0" on the package label.
Sandra Cohen-Rose of the Dieticians of Canada says those "hidden" amounts can add up, particularly if foods containing “partially hydrogenated oil” or “vegetable oil shortening” are eaten every day.
With reports from CTV Montreal Vanessa Lee and The Associated Press