Would a trans fat ban in the U.S. affect Canadian consumers?

TORONTO – Health officials in the U.S. are proposing a sweeping ban on trans fat in processed foods, but is a similar move being considered in Canada?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Thursday that it will force the food industry to gradually phase out trans fat in a proposed policy that could help save lives.

READ MORE: FDA to phase out use of trans fat, preventing heart attacks and death

Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said the ban could prevent 20,000 heart attacks each year and 7,000 deaths. Right now, the federal agency will collect comments from the public and from businesses that might be affected.

Trans fat – found in deep fried foods, frozen foods and packaged products – is made when a liquid vegetable oil is changed into solid fat. It’s usually added to processed goods to make them tastier and helps keep the food stay fresh longer.

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The Canadian arm of the Center for Science in the Public Interest said that Canada could become a “dumping ground” for processed goods that are no longer welcome in the U.S.

READ MORE: Q & A: What are trans fats and why is the FDA phasing them out?

“It’s unclear what the net effect of the U.S. regulation would be. It could be Canadian consumers would benefit from U.S. food supplies or it could be that the U.S. could see Canada as a dumping ground because they have a product that has trans fat and it’s a little cheaper to make,” Bill Jeffery, CSPI national coordinator, told Global News.

The CSPI’s full statement is here.

The non-profit organization with roots in Washington has been carefully watching the call for banning trans fat in North America. According to Jeffery, Health Canada ignored advice from its scientists who suggested that the ban would save lives and money.

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In documents CSPI obtained via access to information requests, Jeffery said Health Canada’s researchers told them regulating trans fat could prevent 1,000 heart attack deaths each year and save up to half a billion dollars annually.

The CSPI said it appealed to Health Minister Rona Ambrose urging her to consider a trans fat ban. You can read the letter to the minister here.

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Health Canada told Global News that the government agency adopted recommendations made by the Trans Fat Task Force and launched its own monitoring program to watch the food industry’s progress in reducing trans fat. Now, nearly 75 per cent of the products monitored met recommended levels and even fast food chains and restaurants have cut back on or eliminated trans fat, a spokesperson said in an email.

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“Health Canada is pleased with this progress and continues to encourage industry to reduce trans fat levels in their foods to as low as possible while not increasing saturated fats,” the email said. The department said it’s aware of the proposal in the U.S. and will be “closely following” the process.

The Food and Consumer Products of Canada, which represents beverages, food and consumer goods companies, said that Canada has been working on lowering trans fat in its products.

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“Canada once had the highest levels of trans fat consumption in the world. Today, the majority of Canada’s food supply is trans fat-free and Canadians have access to thousands of reformulated products,” the organization said in a statement to Global News.

Read the full statement here.

The FDA said that trans fat is still found in these processed foods:

  • crackers, cookies, cakes, frozen pies and other baked goods
  • snack foods (such as microwave popcorn)
  • frozen pizza
  • vegetable shortenings and stick margarines
  • coffee creamers
  • refrigerated dough products (such as biscuits and cinnamon rolls)
  • ready-to-use frostings

Eat Right Ontario also points to ramen noodles, puddings, liquid coffee whiteners and other frozen goods.

Natural trans fat can be found in milk, meat and butter. But keep in mind, this trans fat in natural foods is different from the manufactured trans fat and doesn’t increase risk of heart disease.

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