27/09/2007 (The Age) - FAST food chains have cut down on the use of unhealthy trans fats amid threats of regulation, and have agreed to reduce saturated fats following pressure from health groups.
Major chains including McDonald's, KFC, Hungry Jacks and Pizza Hut were given six months to reduce levels of trans fats — which raise "bad" cholesterol and reduce "good" cholesterol — after a Federal Government review in March.
Yesterday industry groups met the parliamentary secretary for health, Brett Mason, to detail their trans fat "action plans".
While Senator Mason said he was "excited" by the fast food chains' efforts, he urged them to reduce saturated fats — which are currently being consumed by Australians at levels 30 per cent higher than World Health Organisation recommendations.
"It is important when we reduce artificial trans fatty acids in our food supply that we … also focus on reducing the equally unhealthy saturated fats such as palm oil, tallow or lard," said Senator Mason.
The Food Standards Australia New Zealand review found that consumption of trans fats in Australia was lower than levels considered a risk to health.
Food high in trans or saturated fat increases blood cholesterol levels, which can clog arteries and lead to heart attack or stroke.
Many chains have switched from high fat frying oils to healthier options such as sunflower or canola-based oils. Margarine spreads, baking fats and shortening for pastries and pies have also been modified.
Jesters Pies removed two tonnes of saturated fat and nearly one tonne of trans fat from the food supply by modifying five pies that have earned a Heart Foundation "tick".
But other chains such as KFC have switched to palm oil, which has virtually no trans fat but more than 50 per cent saturated fat.
The Heart Foundation has produced a three-step guide to help food chains plan healthier menus.
"We want to see industry change to oils containing less than 20 per cent saturated fat of total fat and virtually no trans fats," said Susan Anderson, the director of the Foundation's Tick Program. "If voluntary agreements don't work, government must regulate to force industry to change its ways."
Senator Mason has given industry six months to report back on efforts to reduce saturated fats.
There will also be a review of trans fat levels in early 2009 and regulation will follow if "sufficient progress was not made".
Dick Wells, the chief executive of the Food and Grocery Council, said the industry had been removing trans fats and lowering saturated fats for 10 years.
He said availability and rising price of low-fat oils made switching to healthier options problematic.