VEGA News Item

The Fats are Under Fire - 03/03/2010

The Food Standards Agency faces fusillades over Satfats

1.  The case for an ombudsman for the food industry is being made, with yet again an examination of the commercial tactics of supermarkets among themselves and with producers and suppliers of foods and raw materials. Dr. Clive Black, head of Research at Share Capital Stockbrokers argues: “At a time when there is a chronic need to control public expenditure we are staggered that even the Opposition agrees with a new office. If created, the politicians’ rhetoric about cutting public sector costs seems misplaced” (The Grocer, 27/02/10).
2.  Dr Verner Wheelock, former head of Bradford University Food Policy Unit cites a recent study from New Zealand that proves, in his opinion, that healthy eating education programs are “ineffective in changing shopping patterns” and that “the key to encouraging a better diet is cheaper prices.” The awareness campaign on saturated fats promoted by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) is dismissed by Dr. Wheelock as “a waste of time.” He says: “Very few people actually understand nutrients and I’ve also advocated the emphasis should focus on foods when promoting healthy eating” (VEGA agrees that poor people should have a choice of good foods and that fiscal means, of which the FSA’s profiling might play a major part, are needed or overhauled, to separate wholesome provender, from junk foods and beverages passing off confectionery and alcoholic drink, heavily advertised and promoted, to impulse buyers of all ages, but especially the young.
3.  Regulation of the food-industry may erupt as an item of controversy in the forthcoming General Election: subjects such as nannying and lack of stimulus for research and enterprise linger as all the subjects of pricing, claims, labelling, and advertising get raked over. Is the recession likely to depress these activities or will it spur the middle classes into lowering consumption of staple foods but with the added value of quality? NGOs and charities such as VEGA have views on these matters. Some, like VEGA, advocate dietary change, for a variety of reasons, among which remain animal welfare and care for the environment and wildlife. Meanwhile gungho marketers consider that such matters will not survive the costs of the nation’s recovery – and possible complete incorporation into the EU when the £ becomes close in value to the ecu. The public’s concern in provenance seems to be declining.
4.  The FSA states that it is too early to judge the satfat campaign’s success. Animal fat is almost synonymous in these contexts with satfats. In the Finnish South Keralia project reduction of animal fats in the diet were credited for reduction of obesity and the corollaries in the metabolic syndrome; new foods, such as Benecol and emphasis on cereals such as rye, barley, and oats and sources of phytostanols were also implicated in these reforms. There are further factors in these dietary matters with omega 6 to omega 3 ratios and the environmental concerns over palm oil: Unilever’s procurement chief has admitted that 85% of its palm oil is  “unsustainable,” and rainforests twice the size of Wales have just been cleared for palm oil. Indonesia is now the 3rd largest emitter of greenhouse gases, owing to CO2 released by plantings on peat bogs.
5.  Satfats may come from products, such as olive oil, or they may be substances converted by hydrogenation to completion of various types of saturated fats-mono-and polyunsaturated, from plants or fish, and in cis-and trans-conformations. Such conversions may be associated with minor-but nonetheless biologically significant-isomerizations and other molecular changes and reactions.

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