With only five months to go before the "Limiting Trans Fatty Acids (TFA) in Foodstuffs Regulations" goes into effect, the private sector is yet to take steps to reduce and control trans fat in foods.
The government is set to implement the regulations in January 2023 to prevent the use of harmful trans fat in food, limiting its level at 2%.
Trans-unsaturated fatty acids, called trans fat. It is also an unintentional byproduct of the industrial processing of vegetable and fish oils.
Dalda or "Banaspati ghee" as well as food prepared with it, snack food items, fried fast food, and bakery contain trans fat.
In a study, the National Heart Foundation Hospital and Research Institute found that in Dhaka 92% of sampled partially hydrogenated oil brands contain more than 2% trans fat which increases the risk of heart attacks, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Trans fats also have an unhealthy effect on cholesterol levels.
Local businessmen are opting for increasing the melting point in producing Dalda rather than changing the mechanism, which the experts also suggest is an ideal alternative.
"To bring down the level of trans fat in Dalda to 2%, it will require total technological change and installation of new machinery. It will require time and will not be possible to implement within the short time in hand. Besides, an investment of more than $8 million will be needed," a top official at a leading Dalda-producing company told The Business Standard, requesting anonymity.
Another Dalda-producing company TK Group of Industries' Senior Deputy General Manager Mohammad Shahidul Islam told TBS, "It is easily possible to lower the trans fat level to 2% by raising the melting point limit of Banaspati. In India, the melting point was 41 degrees Celsius and now it is unlimited. As a result, they have been able to bring the trans fat below 2%."
He pointed out that in Bangladesh, the melting point standard of Banaspati is currently 37 degrees Celsius, at which it will not be in solid form. It will become semi-liquid and cannot be properly used in the bakery industry.
"If the melting point is not unlimited, the entire system of making Banaspati will have to be changed. It will require new technology, manpower and training. The product cost will also increase," he said.
"We have asked the Bangladesh Food Safety Authority to set the melting point above 50 degrees or lift the limit completely. Small bakeries will face problems if the regulation is implemented from January before making the melting point limit unlimited. The general public will have to buy the product at a higher cost," added Mohammad Shahidul Islam.
Abu Ahmed Shamim, associate scientist at the Brac James P Grant School of Public Health, Brac University told The Business Standard, "Trans fat is the unsaturated fat and it is liquid at room temperature. It is solidified by hydrogenation. India has raised the melting point because, if the melting point is raised, many technologies can be used as alternatives to liquefy trans fats."
He further said, "Blending solid fats or oils can be fully hydrogenated, resulting in no more trans fats. Raising the melting point is useful for a country like ours.
"When the Food Safety Authority of India decided to phase out trans fats, it simultaneously made the necessary regulatory changes to implement it. But in Bangladesh, we are close to the implementation before making necessary policy changes."
Abu Ahmed said, "We are only beginning to discuss it."
Dr Sohel Reza Chowdhury of the epidemiology and research department at the National Heart Foundation Hospital and Research Institute told TBS that trans fat-induced heart diseases kill around 6,000 people in Bangladesh each year and a significant number of them are young people.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has called for the elimination of industrial-produced trans fats from the world's food supply by 2023 to reduce the risk of heart disease and premature deaths.
Following the target set by WHO, the Bangladesh Food Safety Authority notified the Limiting Trans Fatty Acids in Foodstuffs Regulations in the government gazette on 29 November 2021, aiming to ensure trans fat-free food by fixing the maximum level of trans fat to 2% of the total fat in all fats, oils and foodstuffs.
According to this law, foodstuff with trans fat contents exceeding the limit of 2% will be penalised under the Safe Food Act with a sentence of a maximum three years of imprisonment, or a fine of Tk3-6 lakh, or both.
MonzurMorshed Ahmed, member (Public Health & Nutrition) of Food Safety Authority and chief of the Technical Committee on Controlling Trans Fat, told TBS, "The regulation will come into effect from January and we are holding regular meetings with traders. Trans fat levels in food will be monitored from January. Factory documents will be examined and there will be sample monitoring from the market."
Executive Director of research and advocacy organisation PROGGA (Knowledge for Progress) said, "Regulation of controlling trans fats in foodstuff will benefit the people of the country from a macro as well as micro point of view. The sooner the regulation is implemented the sooner the country will be free of the detrimental effects of trans fat."