4/6/2005 - Canada’s trans fat task force held its first meeting on Fridayto decide what needs tackling and looked at the risks and benefits ofvarious alternatives to the much maligned oil.
The meeting was said to be "preliminary", but from the outset theobjectives of the meeting had been to build a common understanding of theissues and to begin to develop a decision-making framework.Chaired jointly by Health Canada and the Heart and Stroke Foundation ofCanada with participants from the food industry, the task force plansprimarily to assess the risks and benefits associated with alternatives totrans fats.
The creation of the task force was announced in November 2004 in anattempt to make recommendations for reducing processed trans fat inCanadian foods to the lowest level possible.
In the next few months the group will provide the Minister of Health withrecommendations regarding public education, labelling and any possibleimmediate opportunities for the food industry to reduce trans fats. Thisannouncement will be followed by the fall with recommendations for aregulatory framework and the introduction of healthy alternatives to limittrans fat content in processed foods sold in Canada to the lowest levelspossible.
Trans fats are found naturally in some animal-based foods, but are alsoformed when liquid oils are made into semi-solid fats like shortening andhard margarine. Trans fat, like saturated fat, has been shown to raiseserum LDL- cholesterol (also known as "bad" cholesterol) levels. Inaddition to raising 'bad' cholesterol, trans fat also reduces the levelsof the so-called 'good' cholesterol (HDL-cholesterol) that protectsagainst heart disease.
Health Canada reported last year that over 60 percent of the trans fattyacids consumed come from processed foods such as bakery products, fast andsnack foods, which are made with partially hydrogenated fats. However,since then a number of food manufacturers have reformulated their recipesto make their products trans fat free. The challenge still remains thoughto make sure that in reducing the trans fatty acid content, the levels ofother fat components that have health implications that are equal or worsethan those of trans fatty acids are not increased.
Food manufacturers also have to consider the functionality of the fatsource. Solid fat, for example, allows for easier handling of dough; itprovides functional attributes to baked goods including tenderness,flakiness and enhanced aeration for leavening and structure; it has highoxidative stability thereby increasing the shelf life of the product; andit is often necessary for the processing application itself given itshigher melting point and plasticity.
Traditional oilseeds which have been bred to have lower linoleic andlinolenic acid levels to enhance oxidative stability (e.g. high oleic oilvariants of soybean, canola and sunflower) can also be suitablealternatives to solid shortenings for frying and food processing, howeverthere are still often issues of availability and generally the shelf lifeis too short for big companies.
Tropical oils including palm oil, palm oil fractions, palm kernel oil, andcoconut oil may also be used as alternatives to partially hydrogenatedvegetable oil in some food processing applications because of their highmelting points, but there can again be issues with flavor andfunctionality.
In addition to workability and health issues there are the costsassociated with reducing the amount of trans fatty acids in the foodsupply including the cost of the oil itself as well as costs related toproduct development, consumer testing, marketing, packaging, oil storageand handling, and retooling of the manufacturing process.
While there are differences in the cost of oils, the price of an oil isdictated by an individual supplier. However, ballpark figures indicatethat the price of canola ($1.15/kg), soya ($1.22/kg), palm ($1.16/kg),palm olein ($1.18/kg), and palm stearin ($1.10/kg) are usually about thesame and all are widely available in Canada.
While no figures were presented for cotton, corn, sunflower oil, ormodified oils, these are more expensive oils. Other more expensive oilsare coconut ($1.32/kg), palm kernel ($1.31), palm kernel olein ($1.24/kg),and palm kernel stearin ($1.94/kg), however, with the exception of coconutand palm kernel stearin, use of these is limited in Canada.
Although the impact will vary depending on the individual manufacturer,the price of the oil itself seems to be a relatively minor factor in theactual cost of the final packaged product.
The next task force meeting is scheduled for early June 2005.