VEGA News Item

United Condemnation of Trans-Fats - Understanding of Technical Terms - 04/02/2010

Leading doctors are demanding a ban on the use of man-made fats

1.  “Leading doctors are demanding a ban on the use of man-made fats found in thousands of foodstuffs such as biscuits, ready meals and margarine, because they can damage health” runs the lead to a story on the front-page of the Guardian.  The UK Faculty of Public Health is urging ministers to eradicate artificial trans-fatty acids from the British diet.  The move is needed to reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes, according to the Faculty, which represents 3,300 doctors and health specialists in the NHS, local government and research.  So let’s see support from these health specialists in the catering for visitors, patients, doctors, nurses, ambulance workers, and undertakers decontaminated of the wretched fats in many cakes, pastries and pies, chips, and fast foods.

2.  Health messages are coming in thick and fast as the authorities, the public, and the food industry measure up to their responsibilities in the stringencies and austerity likely to set in at the end of this year.  Will customers, as good citizens, face austerity and the benefits that will accrue or continue to dump on the NHS the consequences of indifference to the evils of alcoholism and junk foods and beverages consumed to excess, augmented by smoking and various substances marking decadence and dissolute lifestyles and feeble self-discipline.  A well-meaning writer to one of the national newspapers urges the replacement of alcoholic beverages by soft drinks.  Not a lot of benefit there then, because schoolchildren probably damage their health by over consumption of those very same junk foods, which are also harmful to adults, especially if they are slothful, as much as by intakes of alcoholic beverages.

3.  The fats are chemically altered vegetable oils used to bulk up foods and increase their shelf life. “They have no nutritional value and boost levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol, thereby increasing the chances of a heart attack.  Trans-fats also occur naturally in meat and dairy products, but these pose no risk” states the Guardian, enigmatically; however, the World Health Organization (WHO) believes unreservedly that “artificial fats are harmful to health and wants them to be minimized or eliminated altogether.  They have also been blamed for causing fertility problems in women.”

4.  “The UK should follow the example of Denmark, New York, California, Switzerland, and Austria in banning trans-fats,” says Professor Alan Maryon-Davies, the Faculty’s president, citing “other countries and regions planning to take similar action.”  He asserts that “foods can be made perfectly well without trans-fats.”  He went further by raising the call that “the government should move to ban them as soon as possible, because eliminating them completely would help save many lives.”  As with liquor and smoking fiscal measures might, by the inevitability of gradualness, achieve more than social upheavals and crime that would turn popular foods into contraband and luxuries.

5.  However, legislation offers the solution states the Royal Society for Public Health, which has produced a joint manifesto with the Faculty suggesting such a measure among a series of policy changes to tackle obesity problems, sexual infections, and food quality.  Every year some 141,000 Britons suffer a heart attack, and 86,000 die as a result; and another 111,000 have a stroke, of whom 53,000 die.  The doctors and the public have to watch that most trans-fats derive from modified vegetable, mostly soya, and they may be counted or profiled among saturated fats, which may be less harmful or as beneficial as some untreated vegetable fats of the mono-unsaturated types, such as olive oil; further, the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 spells heightened danger as it mounts to levels that affect some consumers’ concepts of “healthy” veggie diets.

6.  Professor Steve Field, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners says: “The evidence is indisputable that trans-fats raise your risk of having heart disease and so they can ultimately kill you.  They also might give you Alzheimer’s disease and make you infertile.”

7.  The National Heart Forum, which represents medical organizations and charities involved in combating heart disease, also backs a ban.  “Artificial trans-fats in food present a significant health hazard and there is clear agreement that removing them from the food supply would improve public health,” says Dr. Jane Landon, its vice-chairperson.  “We are recommending to our members the need for government action to eliminate artificial trans-fats.”

8.  Although food producers had made progress in cutting their use and average intake was below officially designated safe levels, Dr. Landon expressed “concern that some sections of the population, especially poorer consumers who eat more processed and fried foods, are exposed to unacceptable health risks.”  Dr. Landon is representing another organization recommending to its members “the need for government action to eliminate artificial trans-fats.”  Customers and consumers must also be reminded of their responsibilities as citizens with a wide exercise of choice (which should always be assured for the poorest customers) and ability to read and understand labels and have ready access to customer services.  Manufacturers and retailers must not be allowed to forget the strength of consumers power, and NGOs and charities must not be fobbed off with complacent excuses from trade bodies such as the Food and Drink Federation and Retail Trade Consortium.  Academics at  institutions of higher learning must assert authority over students who are for  ever appealing for funding or support from the government or parents and the  catering they patronize in Student Unions and clubs, that incontinent  youngsters who can’t hold their liquor disgrace themselves, their families and  their culture when the feasting of decadence and excess demand the self- discipline and respect for our common sustenance as the grip of recession  tightens.

9.  We are aiming at guidance for customers, derived by enhanced labelling and objective information and profiling, to aid canny choices in the provenance and content of protein, fat, and calories in food and drink.  At the moment we have to rely on information from many manufacturers to deduce details on a number of their products, but we may be able to tap into results of isotopic analyses performed by the FSA in assessing authenticity.  Our Portfolio of Eating Plans is under constant review, and is freely available to manufacturers, food writers, the general public and caterers, and its pioneering advances are beginning to influence advice proffered by the NHS, carers, and other social services.  They are especially useful in inspiring variety and choice in institutional catering, meals-on-wheels, lunch-boxes, and applications of FSA inducements for tasteful 5-a-day observances – not always easy in bleak mid-winter in lowlands at little over 50 deg N.

10.  Trans-fats can be derived from plant oils and fats, as well as from animal sources by industrial process of hydrogenation or transesterification; and GM may be involved, eg in engineering a highly monosaturated olive or rapeseed oil for efficient hydrogenation to a completely saturated compound regarded as innocuous for human consumers in modest amounts.  Other adjustments of oils and fats by nanotechnology, eg to affect absorption and mouth-feel, stand to provoke further discontent from consumers, many of whom would like more information on provenance.  The origin of a biscuit, say, may be tricky to define when the last process of baking may be Reading UK, with essential ingredients from crops harvested in the USA and then refined or processed in the USA or UK by millers and bakers putting their stamp on it for morning goods or daytime snacks (such as Danish pastry) and eaten in the UK.  These factors become still more complicated for the footprinting of fermentation products such as beers and breads (especially as Americans eat “English muffins,” which we barely recognize as muffins of any description).






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