Food & Drink » Glenda Bartosh on Food

Trans fat ban way passed its due date

Buyer beware — we don't even regulate this toxin!



Health experts consider them to be a poison; a toxin unsafe in any amount.

The U.S. estimates they are responsible for 7,000 deaths and 20,000 heart attacks every year.

According to an article by dietician Leslie Beck in The Globe and Mail, experts have estimated that in Canada a policy as simple as regulating heart-clogging trans fats "would avert more than 12,000 heart attacks and save $250–$450 million in health care spending each year over the next 20 years."

Trans fats are bad, bad, bad for us — bad for our health, bad for our economy, bad for our wellbeing. We've known this for years, yet they still have not been banned in Canada.

"There is no clearer dietary link to coronary artery disease than the ingestion of trans fats," says obesity expert, Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, by phone from Ottawa. He's a family doctor, assistant professor at the University of Ottawa, and founder of Ottawa's Bariatric Medical Institute — an ethical, evidence-based nutrition and weight management centre.

"(Trans fats) are referred to by the head of the Canadian Trans Fat Task Force as a toxin that's unsafe in any amount, and I would certainly concur with that description of them," he says.

"More importantly, though, they are totally unnecessary to include in our diets. There are alternatives to trans fats that do not carry the same risks and, as a consequence, the only rationale for not taking them out of the food supply is lack of political will."

Unfortunately, trans fats are not even regulated in Canada. This after Health Canada's own Trans Fat Task Force recommended that that be done way back in 2007.

The task force recommendation for regulation is the same one described in The Globe and Mail as able to save millions of dollars in health care costs and thousands of Canadians from heart attacks each year: Trans fat content of vegetable oils and soft, spreadable margarines should be limited to two per cent of the total fat content. The trans fat content for all other foods should be restricted to five per cent of the total fat content, including ingredients sold to restaurants.

Instead, we rely on industry to voluntarily control their use of trans fats, which are found primarily in processed and fast foods. The Conservatives should be more chagrined by this flimflam approach than they are by Rob Ford!

Now the U.S. has joined Denmark, the first country in the world to ban trans fats, although no specific time frame has been designated.

To phase them out, the FDA determined that trans fats no longer fall in the agency's "generally recognized as safe" category and will remove them from a list used for thousands of additives manufacturers can add to foods without FDA review. Once trans fats are off the list, anyone wanting to use them would have to petition the FDA for a regulation allowing it, which would not likely be approved.