Singapore’s 2021 ban on trans fats more likely to affect imported foods

Photo: Pixabay
Photo: Pixabay

The Ministry of Health has enacted a plan to remove foods that contain partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) from the diets of residents in Singapore. As the major source of artificial trans fats, they will be banned as an ingredient in all foods sold in Singapore from June 2021.

According to Yahoo News Singapore, these food items include pre-packaged foods such as snacks, baked goods, prepared meals, and fat spreads, regardless of whether they are manufactured or imported.

Artificial trans fats were once embraced as a cheap alternative to saturated fats like butter or tropical oils, and PHOs have been one of the food industry’s go-to cooking ingredients for decades. While natural occurring trans fats come from cows and sheep, industrially produced trans fats are made in an process that adds hydrogen to vegetable oil, said the World Health Organisation (WHO). This process converts the liquid into a solid, resulting in PHOs, which makes sweets creamy, fries crisp, and keeps packaged baked treats fresh for months.

The Straits Times reported that around 10 per cent of oils, fats, and pre-packaged food products in Singapore currently contain PHOs.

It looks like this ban will replace the current two percent trans fats content limit in fats and oils sold in Singapore that went into effect in 2013. As part of the existing regulation, it also became compulsory to label trans fats levels on the packaging of all fats and oils, and indicate if PHOs were used.

However, the regulation does not extend to pre-packaged goods, including those manufactured overseas. Hence, most of the products likely to be affected by the ban on PHOs will be imported foods.

Photo: Pixabay
Photo: Pixabay

So what’s so bad about trans fats and why are they being banned in Singapore?

Scientists contend that trans fats are more dangerous than the fats they replace. While they have the same artery-clogging properties as saturated fats, they reduce the good cholesterol that can clear arteries. A small but growing body of research has also connected them to memory impairment. According to estimates by the WHO, approximately 540,000 deaths each year can be attributed to the intake of artificial trans fats. The organization also said that high trans fats intake increases the risk of death from any cause by 34 percent, coronary heart disease deaths by 28 percent, and coronary heart disease by 21 percent.

Speaking to the local media during a visit to Sheng Siong Supermarket at Woodlands Road on Thursday (June 6), Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Home Affairs Amrin Amin said that the ban “is part of an ongoing initiative to encourage healthier eating among Singaporeans and improve the quality of Singaporeans’ diet.”

A report by Channel NewsAsia noted that six companies, namely Gardenia Foods, Nestle Singapore, NTUC FairPrice Co-Operative, Prime Supermarket, Sheng Siong Group, and Sunshine Bakeries will make certain their products are PHO-free by June 2020, so health-conscious consumers can have a little more peace of mind.

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