Prohibiting the main source of industrially produced trans fats in food

Backgrounder

April 2017

Evidence shows that trans fats increase blood levels of low-density lipoprotein ("bad") cholesterol and decrease levels of high-density lipoprotein ("good") cholesterol. Both effects have been shown to increase the risk of heart disease.

Trans fats are found naturally in some animal-based foods, such as beef, lamb and dairy products. They can also be industrially produced during a process called partial hydrogenation, which is used to harden and stabilize liquid vegetable oils to improve the shelf life and texture of food.

Partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) are the main source of industrially produced trans fats in foods sold in Canada. Foods that may contain PHOs include hard margarines, vegetable shortenings and commercially baked goods like cookies.

Health Canada has supported research on the health effects of trans fats since 1979, and began measuring trans fat in foods in the 1990s. By the mid-1990s, it was estimated that Canadians had one of the highest trans fat intakes in the world.

In the years since, Health Canada has taken several steps to reduce trans fats in Canadian foods.

  • 2002: Canada became the first country in the world to introduce mandatory labelling of trans fats with the Nutrition Facts table on prepackaged foods.
  • 2005-2006: The Trans Fat Task Force was created in early 2005 with a mandate to provide recommendations on reducing the content of trans fats of foods sold in Canada to the lowest possible level. Its final report, released in 2006, recommended limits on the content of trans fats of vegetable oils and soft, spreadable margarines to 2% of total fat, and 5% for all other foods, including those sold to restaurants.
  • 2007: The Department established the Trans Fat Monitoring Program, which called on the food industry to voluntarily meet the Task Force's recommended targets within two years.
  • 2011: Health Canada's risk assessment of exposure to trans fats in Canada concluded that, despite significant progress in reducing both the content of trans fats of foods and Canadians' intake of trans fat, further reductions were needed to protect overall public health and vulnerable groups.
  • November 2015: The Minister of Health committed to bringing in tougher regulations to eliminate industrially produced trans fat.
  • October 24, 2016: The Minister of Health announced Canada's Healthy Eating Strategy, which includes measures to prohibit the use of PHOs. This will reduce the level of trans fats in the Canadian food supply to the lowest possible level and will also help achieve the World Health Organization's public health goal of reducing the intake of trans fats among Canadians to less than 1% of total energy.
  • November 14, 2016: Health Canada launched a 60-day public consultation on a proposal to prohibit the use of PHOs in foods sold in Canada.
  • April 3, 2017: Health Canada published a regulatory proposal to add PHOs to the incorporated List of Contaminants and Other Adulterating Substances in Foods and thereby prohibit their use in foods. Health Canada is to provide the food industry with a transition period of one year from the date that a final regulatory decision is reached.

Maintaining the current voluntary approach would not address products that still contain PHOs, and would not enable the Government to meet the public health goal of reducing the intake of trans fats by the majority of Canadians to less than 1% of total energy intake. Prohibiting the use of PHOs will ensure that industrially produced trans fats are virtually eliminated from foods, making the desired goal achievable, and will prevent the food industry from reintroducing PHOs into foods sold in Canada.

 


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