BANGKOK - Thailand's health minister sought to allay consumer fears over the use of vegetable oils after the health ministry announced a ban on the production, import and sale of food and drinks containing artificial trans fats.
The new regulation, published in the Royal Gazette on July 13, will take effect on Jan 8 next year.
Public Health Minister Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn on Thursday (July 19) said vegetable cooking oils are safe to use so the public should not be "over-concerned", reported Bangkok Post.
He said the ministry's ban covers artificial trans fats, the byproduct of a process called hydrogenation in which hydrogen is added to vegetable oil to alter its state.
Assoc Prof Wantanee Kriangsinyot, of Mahidol University's Institute of Nutrition, said bottled cooking oil undergoes a different process and is safe for consumption.
Artificial trans fats are blamed for increasing the risk of heart disease or strokes, and are also associated with a higher risk of developing type-2 diabetes.
Nutritionist Sanga Damapong said trans fats can be found in crispy snacks, french fries, cookies, shortening, margarine, non-dairy creamers and dry fast foods, reported The Nation.
He said trans fats, a type of unsaturated fat, were first industrially produced from vegetable fats 50 to 60 years ago. They greatly reduce the cost of manufacturing some food products while extending their shelf-life, eliminating odour and arguably making food tastier.
"After they began being used commercially around the world, people noticed an increase in non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases - predominantly heart attacks and strokes - high blood pressure and diabetes," Sanga said. "Studies were conducted and trans fats were identified as the culprit."
Consumer protection activists are cheering the decision to ban trans fats in food and drinks, said Foundation for Consumers secretary-general Saree Aongsomwang.
She urged the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and related agencies to regularly examine food and drink in the marketplace after the ban goes into full effect to make sure that all food producers follow the law.
"After this ban is in effect, consumers will no longer have to look for a 'trans fats free' label to select healthy foods, as all varieties of food and drink will be required by law to be trans fats free. But it will need strict law enforcement and regular random inspections by the FDA and other related organisations," Saree told The Nation.
Food-industry expert Wassaphon Saengseethong said large food companies have already adapted to the new regulations.
He said that only a few types of food sold in Thailand have trans fats, but warned that small food and bakery businesses might find it hard to adapt to the new guidelines.
"From my experience, it will be very hard for the small food and drink businesses to adapt to this new regulation. The main ingredients for their bakery products and dairy beverages, such as coffee and milk tea, require margarine, shortening, and non-dairy creamer as a cheaper and preferred substitute for real dairy products," Wassaphon said.
"This ban may temporarily affect the price of food and drink. After businesses have adapted to this ban, the situation will go back to normal."