Apex food regulator, the Food Safety & Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), has woken up to the ill effects of trans-fatty acids (TFAs). Following the uproar over the findings of the New-Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), which said last week that there were high levels of trans fats, salt and sugar in popular packaged foods, the regulator has decided to prescribe limits for their usage and consumption.
A maximum of 10 per cent TFAs in vanaspati and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, used by the packaged foods industry, has been prescribed by FSSAI in a draft notification, to be issued by the end of this month.
The notification will be finalised in two months, following feedback and suggestions from various stakeholders, according to officials privy to the development.
The move is significant since the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act (PFA), which regulates what goes into food products in India, has no strictures for trans-fatty acids at the moment. TFAs are said to cause coronary heart disease and world over health authorities recommend that consumption of trans fats should be reduced to trace amounts.
A spokesperson for McDonald’s India, which was named in the CSE report last week, while declining to comment on FSSAI’s latest move, said, “At McDonald's stores, we use RBD palmelein oil, which is naturally trans fat-free. All our products are sourced from the best suppliers, who are all HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) certified. They also undertake regular quality checks at their end. Our products are tested and certified by an independent accredited & FSSAI-approved laboratory.”
PepsiCo also declined to comment on the FSSAI move to regulate the consumption of TFAs in food products. A company spokesperson said, “Since the launch of our business in India, we have not used hydrogenated vegetable oils to manufacture our food products, and none of them therefore contain trans fats. The range of oils currently used by us continues to be non-hydrogenated.”
A spokesperson for Yum, which owns KFC, also named in the report, said, "We have zero added trans fat in all our products across our brands. The nutrition analysis of our products done by reputed independent laboratories shows trans fat not detected. We are committed to providing compelling variety to our customers and offer a comprehensive disclosure of the nutritional content of our food to help our consumers make informed choices."
CSE says companies have taken advantage of the loopholes that exist in the system. Besides the lack of strictures to regulate the consumption of TFAs, it also blames weak food labelling laws in the country for low consumer awareness. "Sugar, salt and fat are items that need to be regulated. This means governments have to step in to control the powerful processed food industry. But, this is not happening in India. The food industry has full privilege to sell anything — and kill people slowly and sweetly,” CSE said in its analysis last week.
Importers of international food products into India admit they can see disparities in products manufactured here vis-a-vis those manufactured abroad. A Delhi-based importer of packaged foods, who did not wish to be named, said, "A pack of popular chips manufactured here tends to have significantly high trans fat levels as opposed to the same brand manufactured abroad. I see this often."