Trans Fatty Acids

Policy Position

Through voluntary action, the majority of FDF members have now eliminated artificial trans fatty acids (also known as partially hydrogenated vegetable oils) from their products, and as a result, TFAs are only found at low levels in UK diet. The latest National Diet and Nutrition Survey (2011) indicates that average trans fats intakes (natural and artificial) were less than 2g per day for all age groups, representing 0.6% – 0.7% of food energy. This falls below the maximum UK and WHO recommendations.

‘Milk and milk products’, ‘meat and meat products’ and ‘cereals and cereal products’ were the main contributors to intake, partly from naturally occurring trans fats in dairy products and the meat of ruminant animals.

Some countries have set legislative limits on levels of artificial trans fats in products. FDF members do not oppose the introduction of legislative limits across Europe, but would not support a requirement to label TFA content, as labelling would be an unnecessary burden and would be confusing to the consumer.


TFAs raise LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) in the blood and lower HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol), thereby increasing the risk of coronary heart disease.

TFAs are found naturally at very low levels in foods such as butter, cheese, milk, beef and lamb. TFAs are also produced as a by-product of a manufacturing process known as partial hydrogenation. Partial hydrogenation serves to ‘harden’ the oil, by increasing its melting point, and thereby improving the stability of the final food product and increasing the shelf life and flavour stability of food containing these fats.

Activity in UK

In recognition of their effect on health, the Department of Health has published the following two part Responsibility Deal Pledge on trans fats:

  1. We do not use ingredients that contain artificial trans fats.
  2. We are working to remove artificial trans fats from our products within the next 12 months.

The two parts to the pledge reflect the fact that some organisations have taken the decision not to use artificial trans fats, others have already removed them from their products, and some are still working to remove them.

Although the Responsibility Deal was introduced under a previous Government, companies are still asked to report on progress annually. Further information about signatories to the pledge


Activity in Europe

As part of the Food Information to Consumers Regulation (Regulation 1169/2001) the European Commission was required to develop a report on TFAs to advise on whether legislative measures on TFA use and labelling are necessary. On 3 December 2015, the Commission published its report, which suggests that setting a legal limit for industrial TFAs would be the most effective measure in terms of public health, consumer protection and compatibility with the single market.

The Commission will launch a public consultation and carry out an impact assessment to collect more information to inform its policy decision.

In 2010, EFSA concluded that there is insufficient evidence to establish whether there is any difference between ruminant and industrial TFA consumed in equivalent amounts on the risk of heart disease. The Commission report states that EFSA should be asked to review and update (if necessary) its scientific opinion on TFAs in order to reflect the latest science.

See EC Report on Trans Fat Published for more information

Activity in US

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has declared that partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) are not “generally recognized as safe” for use in food. This means they are classed as food additives and and cannot be used without prior approval. Foods containing unapproved food additives are considered adulterated under US law, meaning they cannot legally be sold.

The decision was taken because FDA claims that many foods in the US still contain artificial trans fats, which are linked to an increased risk of coronary heart disease.

The FDA has set a compliance period of three years, (deadline 18 June, 2018). This will allow food manufacturers to either reformulate products without PHOs and/or petition the FDA to permit specific uses of PHOs.

Further information can be found here.

Last reviewed: 11 Feb 2016