Nutritionists praise health move but local bakeries brace for impacts.
THAILAND’S BAN on trans fats is being applauded by consumer protection activists and nutritionists but a food-industry expert says the government action could lead to chaos in small bakeries and dairy beverage businesses.
The ban will be enforced on January 8 next year, six months after the Public Health Ministry implemented a ministerial regulation to ban the production, import, and sale of products with partially hydrogenated oils. Those oils are the main source of trans fats, and medical researchers say their elimination will reduce people’s risk of cardiovascular disease.
The science on trans fats is clear: they are linked to heart disease and diabetes, among other illnesses.
Nutritionist Sanga Damapong on Sunday said trans fats can be found in crispy snacks, french fries, cookies, shortening, margarine, non-dairy creamers and dry fast foods.
“Trans fats can cause many deaths because they contribute to the risk of cardiovascular disease,” he said.
Sanga said trans fats, a type of unsaturated fat, were first industrially produced from vegetable fats 50 to 60 years ago. They greatly reduce the cost of manufacturing some food products while extending their shelf-life, eliminating odour and arguably making food tastier.
“After they began being used commercially around the world, people noticed an increase in non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases – predominantly heart attacks and strokes – high blood pressure and diabetes,” Sanga said. “Studies were conducted and trans fats were identified as the culprit.”
He said the move should have little effect on Thai food manufacturers since the ministry had advised them that the ban was coming and they have already made adjustments. Also, they have another six months to alter product labels, he said.
Consumer protection activists are cheering the decision to ban trans fats in food and drinks, said Foundation for Consumers secretary-general Saree Aongsomwang. She urged the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and related agencies to regularly examine food and drink in the marketplace after the ban goes into full effect to make sure that all food producers follow the law.
“This is a progressive move to protect customers by reducing their health risk from daily consumption of food and drink. Until now, there has been no guarantee for health-conscious consumers that they could totally avoid trans fats in their food, due to a lack of detailed labels on products, Saree said.
“After this ban is in effect, consumers will no longer have to look for a ‘trans-fats free’ label to select healthy foods, as all varieties of food and drink will be required by law to be trans fats free. But it will need strict law enforcement and regular random inspections by the FDA and other related organisations.”
Saree agreed with Sanga that the six-month period before the ban begins is long enough for the food business to adapt to the law without affecting consumers.
Food-industry expert Wassaphon Saengseethong, also known as SchwedaKong, said large food companies have already adapted to the new regulations.
He said that only a few foods in the Thai marketplace have trans fats, but warned that small food and bakery businesses might find it hard to adapt to the new food guidelines.
“From my experience, it will be very hard for the small food and drink businesses to adapt to this new regulation. The main ingredients for their bakery products and dairy beverages, such as coffee and milk tea, require margarine, shortening, and non-dairy creamer as a cheaper and preferred substitute for real dairy products,” Wassaphon said.
“This ban may temporarily affect the price of food and drink. After businesses have adapted to this ban, the situation will go back to normal.”