Close eye to be kept on trans fats

Consumption levels in China to be tracked as US proposes ban

CHINA - Consumption of trans fats, and their potential health impact in the long term, is to be monitored closely by China's health and food safety authorities, a senior expert said.

The move comes after the US Food and Drug Administration proposed on Thursday banning artificial trans fats in processed food ranging from cookies to frozen pizza, citing the risk of heart disease.

"China will not take similar action in the near future, given low-level consumption of trans fats among the public," Chen Junshi, a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering at the China National Center for Food Safety Risk Assessment, told China Daily on Friday.

The current intake of trans fats among Chinese poses no tangible health risks, he said, citing the results of a regional study released in June.

The study, an assessment report on the consumption of trans fats, and associated health risks, in China found that they accounted for 0.16 per cent of the total energy consumption of people in five Chinese cities.

For cities with a higher intake, such as Beijing and Shanghai, trans fats comprised 0.34 per cent of total energy consumption, the survey showed.

The World Health Organisation recommends that trans fats should account for no more than 1 per cent of energy intake, or no more than 2.2 grams a day.

"China's intake is much lower than that," Chen said.

The average daily intake of trans fats in the United States in 2012 was 1 gram, according to the FDA, down from 4.6 grams in 2003.

Trans fats occur during the processing of polyunsaturated fatty acids in food production, helping food have a longer shelf time but heightening the risk of heart disease and other cardiovascular diseases, experts say.

They are usually found in dairy products, margarine and partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, widely used in fast and baked food such as cookies, cakes and chocolate.

The typical Chinese diet features far fewer dairy products, such as cheese, than that in the West, so trans fat consumption remains low, said Liu Zhaoping, a researcher at the centre.

But Chen Chunming, a veteran nutritionist, said trans fat consumption in China is rising, because people are eating more processed food. Processed food accounts for less than 30 per cent of food consumption in China, compared with 60 per cent in the US.

Chen Junshi, from the China National Center for Food Safety Risk Assessment, said the centre will constantly track consumption levels and make policy proposals when needed.

Deng Haihua, a spokesman for the National Health and Family Planning Commission, said health and nutrition education will be improved.

"We've followed closely the health impact of trans fats globally and have taken some measures in China for public guidance," he said.

A 2012 study by the WHO found that death rates from cardiovascular disease were twice as high among people eating food high in trans fats, saturated fat, calories and salt.

The regional study compared countries with healthier food policies, including Denmark, Norway and Sweden, and Britain, which has no such policies.

It predicted that a ban on industrial trans fats in Britain, a country of more than 63 million people according to a 2011 census, could help save up to 5,000 lives a year.

In China, from January the level of trans fats has to be highlighted on the nutrition information label for processed food containing hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fat.

If there is less than 0.3 grams in each 100 grams of the food, the amount of trans fats can be labelled as zero.

Yang Yuexin, a nutrition researcher with the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention said, "The label rule will help consumers make the right choice for healthy eating."

Deng said trans fat limits have been set for baby food products, where they should account for no more than 3 per cent of total fatty acids.

Fu Hong, an associate professor at the College of Biological Science and Technology at Fuzhou University, said such rules will help domestic food producers to improve processing methods.

Zhu Nianling, director of the China Association of Bakery and Confectionery Industry, said trans fats within certain limits are acceptable in food processing. Chen Rongrong, general manager of the essence and spice unit at Hangzhou Wahaha Group, the country's leading beverage producer, said there is a difference between artificial trans fats and those created during food processing.