Published: 18.03.08
Trans fats in comestibles

Legal limit for trans-fat content

A 2007 study from ETH Zurich revealed that almost a third of the 120 Swiss comestibles tested contained an excessive amount of trans fatty acids. The state has now taken action.

Simone Ulmer
Ice cream can also contain high amounts of trans fatty acids. The new law therefore serves as the perfect prelude to the approaching summer season (photo: Alessio Damato)
Ice cream can also contain high amounts of trans fatty acids. The new law therefore serves as the perfect prelude to the approaching summer season (photo: Alessio Damato)

Trans fatty acids develop if fats and oils become partially hydrogenated, a process used to obtain the fat properties needed for the technological preparation of food. Today, fats and oils that undergo this process are predominantly of vegetable origin. Considerable amounts of industrially created trans fatty acids can be found, for example, in puff pastry, ice cream and deep-fried pastry and are harmful to both the cardiovascular system and the metabolism. After the researchers from ETH Zurich had publicized their alarming study, the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) began looking for solutions with the food and gastronomy industries. Both parties said they were willing to adopt measures to reduce the trans fatty acid content in food.  However, a declaration for the comestibles was rejected and the parties were unable to agree on a maximum value last spring.

Same conditions for everyone

Now the FOPH has finally taken action. From April 1 of this year, 100 grams of vegetable cooking oil and vegetable cooking fat will only be permitted to contain a maximum of 2 grams of trans fatty acids. Food producers have one year to adjust their products according to the new limit. Michael Beer, head of the Food Safety Division of the FOPH, explains why a limit has been set after all: “Following an analysis of the situation, we were of the opinion that a restriction would make the conditions clear and equal for all food producers and the trade as a whole.” This, it would seem, is how to maintain the high level of health protection the Swiss population enjoys.

Paolo Colombani of ETH Zurich’s Department of Agricultural and Food Sciences, who was involved in the 2007 trans-fat study, regards this decision as sensible. As early as 1947, Swiss physiologist Alfred Fleisch called for the examination of the health-related impact of the industrial fat processing procedures in the production of foodstuffs where trans fats could develop. Today, we have enough evidence to show that an overindulgence of vegetable trans fats goes hand in hand with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

After Denmark, Switzerland is the second country in the world to introduce a limit. There are now clear specifications for the industry. However, even if it may seem a disadvantage at first glance, the limit can still become an advantage among the competition, explains Colombani. “The products have one unfavorable ingredient less and have thus become more useful. At the end of the day, the clear guidelines are in all of our interests.”

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