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CSE report slams vanaspati industry; trans fats levels are dangerously high
Thursday, 05 February, 2009, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Our Bureau, New Delhi
Sunita Narain, well-known for her exposure of soft drink giants Pepsi and Coca-Cola for the high pesticide content in 2003, has now found the edible oil industry, especially the vanaspati sector, guilty of selling their products with high trans fat levels. The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) led by Sunita Narain has conducted a study on major vanaspati brands like Dalda, Rath, Raag and Gagan, and found high levels of dangerous fats in all these samples. Some of these brands are manufactured by multinationals like Cargill and Bunge.

"There is an increasing concern on trans fat across the world. We studied the extent of trans fat in leading brands following international methodologies and found high content of trans fats in all vanaspati brands," Narain said at a press conference in New Delhi. The tests found that in all vanaspati brands, transfat levels were 5-12 times higher than the world's only standard for trans fats in oil, set in Denmark, at 2%.

Despite all claims by companies, the stark truth is that one can never be sure if the oil selling in the market is healthy enough. "In fact, the oil that you consume believing it to be the best for your health, could be swimming with trans fats, which could lead to heart diseases and cancer," said a CSE press release.

Surprisingly, the CSE study found that actual trans fats content in oils was lower than what the labels stated. "The Rath label claim said its trans fat content was between 15 and 55 %, but it was actually 15.9%, and Dalda claims it is between 7 and 33 %, but it is actually 9.4%," said Sunita Narain, Director of CSE. The margins were huge. The labels should tell the consumers the exact amount, with little variation here and there, she said.

"It is strange that while the government admits that trans fats are dangerous to human health, it has been delaying action to regularise its levels," she said. After more than three years of consultations with the government departments and the industry, a sub-committee on oils and fats set up by the health ministry had last year proposed a three-phase introduction of limits for trans fats. The proposal called for a 15% limit during 2008, 10% by 2009and 5% by 2010. In February 2008, the Central Committee for Food Standards endorsed the proposal but indicated that it wanted additional data from industry groups. "It's more than a year… we don't know what data they are waiting for," Narain said.

But senior health officials have said that while trans fats are dangerous, the government was not in a position to ban them overnight. "The price (of vanaspati) can be a politically sensitive issue," said one official. "We need to consider what substitutes are available if trans fats are banned before we can ban trans fats."
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