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Singapore to ban key source of artificial trans fat

The ban on partially hydrogenated oils as a food ingredient will kick in on June 2021, to allow the industry time to reformulate their products or find new product sources, the Singapore Health Ministry said. (TODAY photo)

SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Health will be banning all partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), a key source of artificial trans fat, as an ingredient in all foods in Singapore, whether manufactured locally or imported. The ban will take effect from June 2021.

The ministry said on Thursday six companies have already committed to meet the ban a year early, ensuring that their products are PHO-free by June 2020, TODAY reported.

They are:

These six companies account for 50% of market share across the four high-risk food categories of snacks, baked goods, prepared meals and fat spreads, the ministry said.

PHOs are formed when liquid oil is converted to semi-solid fats to increase the shelf-life of products. Commonly found in oils, fats and pre-packaged products, it is estimated that about 10% of these categories of food in Singapore currently contain PHOs, most of which are imported, said the ministry.  

The ban will take effect in June 2021 to allow the industry “time to reformulate their products or find new product sources”.

Food manufacturers are required to ensure that PHOs are not used in their manufacturing process, while retailers and importers are required to ensure that their range of products does not include PHO as an ingredient.

To help companies find new ways of making food without trans fat, Enterprise Singapore will provide enterprise development grants for product reformulation, the ministry said.

The ministry will also be providing guidelines to facilitate a smooth transition, and market surveillance will be conducted regularly to ensure the industry’s compliance to the ban.

The new measure will replace the current 2% limit of the amount of trans fat content in fats and oils sold in Singapore.

While this existing limit has halved the national daily trans fat intake from 2.1 grammes a day in 2010 to 1 gramme a day in 2018, the ministry said trans fat intake among some groups, such as young adults aged 18 to 39, remain high.

This is mainly due to their higher consumption of four main categories of pre-packaged foods containing trans fats:

  • Fat spreads and creamers such as peanut butter and three in one coffee mixes
  • Packaged meals such as instant noodles and ready-to-eat meals
  • Baked goods such as cakes, cookies and biscuits
  • Snacks such as potato chips and popcorn

Trans fat consumption is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, and there is no safe level of consumption.

Previous studies involving nearly 140,000 subjects had found that a four-gram increase in daily trans fat intake was associated with a 23% increase in the incidence of cardiovascular disease.

Speaking to reporters after a tour of Sheng Siong Supermarket in Junction 10 on Thursday, Amrin Amin,  the Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Health said: “When we implement a ban, we would like to ensure that it is sustainable, it does not cause undue hardship to consumers.”

When asked if consumers would have to pay higher prices,  Amin said it is unlikely.

“Based on our studies, we know there are enough alternatives (for PHOs) and so we do not expect price increases. And we have received feedback from retailers and assurances that prices will not be affected with this ban,” he said.

The Sale of Food Act will be amended to enact the ban on PHOs, and will empower the Health Promotion Board (HPB) to conduct regular market surveillance to ensure that food manufacturers are compliant.

Companies that contravene this ban will have to withdraw the products from Singapore, and will not be allowed to sell the product until it has been reformulated, the HPB said.

All food manufacturers, retailers and importers must also continue listing the ingredients on the packaging of their products sold in Singapore.

How are companies adapting?

In response to TODAY’s queries, an NTUC spokesman said that currently, less than 10% of their housebrand processed food products contain PHOs.

These products, such as baked goods, instant noodles and spreads, will be reformulated to be PHO-free over the next 12 months, the spokesperson added.

A Nestle Singapore spokesperson said that 98.6% of their products in Singapore are already PHO-free, and the company will achieve 100% elimination by the end of this year.

“There will be no pricing changes to our products at this time,” the spokesperson added.

Meanwhile, Sheng Siong’s 125 housebrand products in the four high-risk food categories of snacks, baked goods, prepared meals and fat spreads are PHO-free, a spokesperson told TODAY.

The spokesperson said only about 1% of all products sold by the supermarket chain currently contains PHOs.

“At our end, there will be some changes in our procurement process. For instance, our housebrand department has required suppliers to provide a lab test to show that the products are PHO-free,” the spokesperson added.

Gardenia, meanwhile, told TODAY it has already been producing PHO-free bread since the early 2000s.

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