Regulating industrial trans-fats

Regulation of industrial trans-fats must proceed without further delay

Regulating industrial trans-fats


n the global battle against unhealthy food, the World Health Organisation has set another standard: industrial trans-fatty acids (iTFA) should not exceed 2 percent in our food. The urgency is underscored by the WHO’s call for governments worldwide to eliminate trans-fats from global food supplies by 2023.

In Pakistan, adherence to these guidelines has been uneven, with regulatory fluctuations and industry challenges making the process far from straightforward.

In 2016, Pakistan had no specific regulations for iTFA. A 10 percent upper limit for banaspati ghee was set in 2017. While a step forward, it was alarmingly higher than the WHO’s recommendation.

In 2020, the Punjab Food Authority banned partially hydrogenated oils and set a 0.5 percent limit. This was a significant leap towards safeguarding public health. However, the regulatory landscape remained inconsistent.

The Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority revised the standards in 2023, aiming to align these with WHO’s 2 percent iTFA limit. Standards for banaspati ghee, biscuits, margarine, bakery fat, bread, rusk and bakery wares were revised to comply with the global health guidelines.

This is an important step, indicating the intention of the policymakers to reduce trans-fats in the food. However, several iTFA-intensive food products remain untouched by these regulations. Notable among these food items are chocolates, ultra-processed foods, ice creams, most types of pasta, dairy and popular street foods.

This policy gap has been highlighted over the last few months by the Pakistan Youth Change Advocates-led TRANSFORM Pakistan campaign, civil society organisations like the Centre for Peace and Development Initiative and Heartfile and some renowned health experts.

It is important to point out that while setting standards is a part of the challenge, effective implementation and enforcement of these regulations is equally important.

A major hurdle is the presence of partially hydrogenated oils, a type of fat that the industry positions as a taste enhancer. Some industry stakeholders are using this position to stall progress towards elimination of iTFAs in Pakistan. It is essential for both the public and governmental bodies to understand that the severe health consequences of excessive iTFA consumption cannot be ignored.

While iTFAs may serve as taste enhancers for some people, they have absolutely no nutritional benefits. In simple terms, iTFAs are a poison that attacks our organs, including the heart, and have severe health repercussions.

The urgency to cover all foods under the 2 percent iTFA limit is real. Unless a mandatory governmental regulation covers all foods across Pakistan, it will be nearly impossible to ensure that the food consumed by all Pakistanis complies with the WHO’s iTFA standards and is safe.

Collaborative efforts are the need of the hour to push towards the end goal. Stakeholders, including the Ministry of National Health Services, Coordination and Regulation, PSQCA, provincial food authorities, legislators, analytical labs, academia, media and civil society, each have an important role to play in ensuring that iTFA in all food items across Pakistan are regulated without further delay.

A collaborative approach is essential to effectively implement and enforce iTFA limits, safeguarding public health and paving the way for a healthier dietary landscape in Pakistan. The journey towards healthier food choices is undoubtedly challenging, but the collective commitment of all stakeholders can turn the tide in favour of a healthier future for our nation.

The writer is an assistant professor at the Department of Food Science and Technology, University of Karachi

Regulating industrial trans-fats