Nestlé and Unilever put pressure on EU to ban trans fats

By Niamh Michail

- Last updated on GMT

Latvia, Denmark, Hungary, Austria, Taiwan and the USA have all restricted trans fats in food - but will the EU listen to calls for a European ban?
Latvia, Denmark, Hungary, Austria, Taiwan and the USA have all restricted trans fats in food - but will the EU listen to calls for a European ban?

Related tags Trans fats Trans fat

Food giants Unilever and Nestlé have said they support a ban on trans fats in Europe following a Twitter campaign by consumer rights group BEUC.

The BEUC campaign is calling for firms to follow suit and for the European Commission to listen to calls from health campaigners and MEPs by passing legislation that would ban trans fats.

Nestlé tweeted that it was looking forward to convincing the European Commission of the need for legislation on trans fats. The company has pledged to remove trans fats (typically derived from partially hydrogenated oils) from its portfolio by 2016 and to reduce saturated fat content by 10% in products that do not meet the Nestlé Nutritional Foundation criteria. Some products have been relaunched with up to 80% less saturated fat.

In 2010 Unilever pledged to remove trans fats from its products and in 2012 said it had achieved its target. "In September 2012, 100% of our portfolio by volume did not contain trans fats originating from partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. This is true both in high income countries but also in middle and low income countries,"​ it said in a statement.

This week a study published in the BMJ​ estimated a trans fat ban would save up to 7000 lives in England alone. It was met with criticism that the numbers were exaggerated, since industry had practically eliminated trans fats in Western Europe on a voluntary basis. 

But despite these potential flaws, Professor Peter Weissberg, medical director at the British Heart Foundation, still called for a total ban on industrial trans fats. “Even though England has made steps towards reducing the levels of trans fats in our diets, other countries are well ahead of us,”​ he said.

Earlier this year, director general of BEUC, Monique Goyens, said in an open letter​ addressed to European Commissioner Jean-Claude Juncker that the voluntary schemes did not protect consumers enough.

 “A voluntary approach has been favoured in the past 15 years. Yet this means the food industry can decide what levels are tolerable, achievable and, as a result, [industrially-produced trans fatty acids] still lurk in several foods and put consumers’ health at risk.”

In her letter, Goyens drew upon the example set by Denmark – which restricted trans fats to 2 g per 100 g of fat – without affecting prices, food availability or taste and texture of products. It also eliminated any competitive advantage for companies that chose not to reformulate. 

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