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August 1, 2019

Regulatory steps critical to eliminating trans fatty acids

Islamabad

August 1, 2019

Islamabad : Key government and non-government stakeholders converged here Wednesday with a view to arrive at a common understanding on the regulatory steps required for the elimination of Trans Fatty Acids.

The occasion was a collaborative seminar hosted by the World Health Organisation, the Nutrition Wing of the Ministry of National Health Services and Heartfile.

Elimination of industrially produced TFAs from the food supply is one of the priority targets identified in the draft 13th General Programme of Work, which will guide WHO’s work in 2019-2023. Increased intake of TFA (>1% of total energy intake) is associated with increased risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) events and mortality. Globally, more than 500,000 deaths in 2010 were attributed to increased intake of TFA. Industrially produced TFA have no known health benefits, and their elimination is feasible and achievable.

The event was attended by provincial ministers, senators, parliamentarians, provincial food authorities from Punjab, Sindh, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Baluchistan, Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority, provincial health and nutrition departments, UNICEF, GAIN, SUN Network, NCD Alliance Pakistan, the Food Fortification Programme, and the Network for Consumer Protection, among others.

Commencing the proceedings, National Nutrition Coordinator for the Ministry of Health Dr. Khawaja Masoud spoke about the importance of focusing policy attention on this critical matter, which threatens the lives and health of millions of Pakistanis. He said, Pakistan is the 2nd highest TFA-consuming country in the WHO-EMRO region and that the situation merited a concerted multi-stakeholder response that addresses both demand and supply factors to reduce TFA consumption.

Director Nutrition Dr. Baseer Khan Achakzai highlighted the importance of nutrition in terms of relating it to human capital development. He mentioned the lagging health indicators and the double burden of disease in terms of malnutrition and obesity being endemic in the country and its relation to nutrition. He emphasized the need to act now, mentioning the attention accorded to the issue on the national level and referred to the current initiatives to combat it including the task force on health and urged participants to do more with regard to implementation.

Dr. Ayoub Al-Jawaldeh, Regional Director Nutrition, WHO-EMRO highlighted global and regional best practices on trans-fat elimination. He sensitized the audience on the NCD burden of disease in the country, harms of TFA, and outlined the steps that would lead from policy to implementation. He specially emphasized food labelling protocols’ implementation to sensitize the general public of what they are eating.

Parliamentary Secretary for Commerce and Trade Dr. Shandana Gulzar Khan emphasized the importance of having clear policy guidelines. She mentioned that the Ministry of Commerce is in contact with the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Agriculture and related industries to ban the production of TFAs.

WHO Representative Dr. Palitha Mahipala mentioned important policy goals with regard to TFA elimination such as to eliminate all industrially produced TFAs from food supply, to educate people about TFAs and food pack labelling. He said, 57% of the deaths in this country are due to NCDs which can be brought down by TFA elimination.

Parliamentary Secretary for Health Dr. Nosheen Hamid noted that prevention is the key to tackling this issue. This can be enabled through the regulation of Vanaspati ghee, margarines etc. She said it was time to revisit food legislation and to make food labelling mandatory.

Minister of Health for Baluchistan Mir Nasibullah Mari talked about the difficulties Baluchistan is having in terms of basic life necessities including clean water and how the health department is coping with these challenges.

Many parliamentarians shared their views regarding the importance of nutrition awareness. Issues raised included the importance of implementation, the role of parents in encouraging children to make healthy choices, and to engage in physical activities.

Furthermore, Mian Ateeq Sheikh from the Standing Committee of Health in the Senate, commented on the success of the event in equipping policy makers and other stakeholders with the knowledge to tackle TFA. He pledged to legislate laws to regulate TFA in the coming weeks after consulting relevant stakeholders and asked all parliamentarians to support him.