HEALTH Minister Dr Christopher Tufton has welcomed the announcement of the World Health Organization (WHO) about an increase in the number of people protected globally from the deadly effects of trans-fat consumption.
Tufton told the Jamaica Observer on Wednesday that the country is urgently trying to advance its own trans-fat elimination agenda.
"We have been pursuing this objective for the past few years so far with the study done on the presence of industrialised trans-fat in our food system," he said, noting that a number of sectoral, multi-stakeholder meetings have been held to pursue a timeline to abolish industrialised trans-fats from locally consumed foods.
Policymakers and stakeholders are in the final stages of putting together a committee comprising stakeholders in the manufacturing and exporting sector, the ministry and academia, to explore the work to be done to lead up to the total elimination of trans-fat.
"I intend to speak to that once we finalise the nominees for that committee and I take it to Cabinet for a final confirmation and move the process forward. We are making progress," Dr Tufton said.
The WHO says since it first called for the global elimination of industrially produced trans-fat in 2018 — with an elimination target set for 2023 — population coverage of best-practice policies has increased almost sixfold. This has moved the population now protected from trans-fat consumption from 550 million to 2.8 billion, according to the WHO's just-published annual status report on trans-fat.
The report, Countdown to 2023 WHO Report on Global Trans-fat Elimination 2022, is published by the WHO in collaboration with Resolve to Save Lives, to track global progress towards the goal of trans-fat elimination in 2023.
WHO director general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus noted at a briefing this week that 43 countries, representing a third of the world's population, have implemented anti-trans-fat policies, up from 550 million people in mainly high-income countries in 2018.
Still, five billion people globally remain unprotected from harmful trans-fat, increasing their risk of heart disease and death, the WHO noted.
"Despite substantial progress, however, this still leaves five billion worldwide at risk from trans-fat's devastating health impacts, with the global goal for its total elimination in 2023 remaining unattainable at this time," the WHO said.
Jamaica has up until 2025, as agreed, to meet the WHO's best practice and prohibition policy guidelines for the elimination of trans-fat. The global target for trans-fat elimination is a mandatory national limit of two grams of industrially produced trans-fat per 100 grams of total fat in all foods; and a mandatory national ban on the production or use of partially hydrogenated oils as an ingredient in all foods.
Industrially produced trans-fat is commonly found in cooking oils and spreads, packaged foods, baked goods, and its intake has been attributed to up to 500,000 premature deaths from coronary heart disease annually, the global health experts say.
"Trans-fat has no known benefit, and huge health risks that incur huge costs for health systems," Tedros argued. "By contrast, eliminating trans-fat is cost-effective and has enormous benefits for health. Put simply, trans-fat is a toxic chemical that kills and should have no place in food. It's time to get rid of it once and for all."
The WHO has recommended that countries focus on adopting best-practice policies, monitoring and surveillance, healthy oil replacements and advocacy in 2023, and encourages food manufacturers to eliminate industrially produced trans-fat from their products, aligning to the commitment made by the International Food and Beverage Alliance (IFBA).