The most awaited demand of experts to reduce the level of trans fats in food items has been met now, as India’s top food regulator Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) reduces it to 3%. The current permissible limit of trans fat is 5%. A gazetted notification by FSSAI on December 29 says the level of trans fats in oils and fats will not be more than 3% from January 1, 2021, onwards. FSSAI draft notification that has been in the works for a couple of years said, “India is committed to the elimination of industrial trans fats in fats/oils and in foods containing fats/oils in a phased manner. The trans fat content in fats and oils has already been limited to 5%, and the notification to further reduce it to 3% by 2021, and to 2% by 2022 is under process. The regulation is also being extended to food products having fats or oils”.
Industrial trans fats are toxic compounds that can lead to several non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases. These are formed during the hydrogenation of vegetable oils (adding hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid) to increase the shelf life of foods, and other processes such as heating of oil at high temperature. Industrial trans fats are largely present in partially hydrogenated fats such as margarine, and bakery shortenings used in preparation of bakery products, and in vanaspati that is used to prepare sweets and deep fried items.
According to the World Health Organisation, approx. 5.4 lakh deaths every year take place globally because of the consumption of industrially-produced trans-fatty acids. The health agency has also called for the elimination of trans fats globally by 2023. As per the Chief Operation Officer of Consumer VOICE, Ashim Sanyal, the rule has come at a time of COVID-19 pandemic where the burden of non-communicable diseases has risen as cardiovascular disease along with diabetes are proving to be fatal for the patients of COVID-19.
An estimated 540,000 people die each year globally of cardiovascular diseases, and consumption of food laced with industrial trans fats is a contributing factor. In India, the number of deaths is around 60,000, according to government data.