Trend-setting New York is set to become the first city in the United States to limit the amount of trans fatty acids in all items on restaurant menus. The radical move, proposed by the city's health officials, is a reflection of growing concern over the consumption of trans fat. This is a specific type of fat artificially created through the partial hydrogenation of oils, mainly of vegetable origin. There is a growing body of medical evidence on the link between trans fat consumption and coronary heart disease; a study by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health suggests that removing trans fats from industrial food supplies can prevent tens of thousands of heart attacks and cardiac deaths in the U.S. every year. While both saturated fat and trans fat increase the levels of artery-clogging "bad cholesterol" (low density lipids), trans fat has been shown to reduce the levels of "good cholesterol" (high density lipids), thus heightening the risk of heart disease. Dietary trans fat is inessential and has no known health benefit. While traces of it occur naturally in meat and dairy products, its use in the processed food industry mainly in snack foods, fried and baked is wholly a matter of convenience. Foods made with trans fat have a higher melting point, enjoy a longer shelf life, and require less refrigeration. However, the public health costs of such commercial expediency are much too high.
The processed food industry in various countries is under increased pressure to label trans fat content. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has made it mandatory for food manufacturers to list trans fat content as a separate line on labels from January 1, 2006. But is labelling enough to tackle the global problem of diet-related disease and obesity? It certainly helps, but the World Health Organisation recommends that if labelling does not lead to significant reductions of trans fat consumption, all countries must phase out the processing of oils by partial hydrogenation. Special interests opposing such a phase-out will find it difficult to sustain the argument following the encouraging experience of Denmark, which adopted radical legislation severely limiting the content of trans fatty acids in oils and fats. Not only have alarmists who warned this would cripple the food trade been proved wrong. Large food manufacturers have fallen in line with the law, modified their products, and prepared themselves for more restrictions. The Danish model has shown that artificial trans fat can be eliminated through enlightened state policy and legislation. India must follow suit.