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NTUC FairPrice to label trans fat products & promote healthier living

By Yvonne Yong, channelnewsasia.com
07 February 2007 1816 hrs

Amidst calls for food manufacturers in Singapore to voluntarily label their products, Singapore’s largest supermarket chain, NTUC FairPrice has announced it will declare trans fat content on its new housebrand products.

28 of its housebrand products, including a range of oils, instant noodles, breads and snacks, which do not contain trans fat or have negligible amounts, will be labelled 'trans fat free', so that consumers can immediately identify them as healthier product choices.

"Way before the recent public concern, FairPrice has been actively sourcing and developing new products that meet criteria for Healthier Choice and trans fat free products," says Tan Kian Chew, Group CEO of FairPrice.

"We are happy to note that our early start allows us to respond promptly to the recent issues raised by the public and today, we have some alternatives that have no trans fat, for our health-conscious customers," says Mr Tan.

Trans fat is formed during hydrogenation of vegetable oil and because hydrogenated fats are more stable and extend the shelf life of foods, they are commonly used in processed foods.

The majority of trans fat in our diet is from processed foods, particularly commercial deep-fried foods and baked products made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils or shortening.

Trans fat in the body raises 'bad' low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels (LDL) that increase one’s risk of coronary heart disease, while reducing 'good' high-density lipoprotein (HDL) which protects against heart disease.

The negative effects of trans fat on health has prompted Health Boards in the United States and Canada, for example, to launch nationwide campaigns.

New York City's Board of Health very recently voted to ban trans fat in restaurant food on December 5, 2006, making it the first large US city to strictly limit trans fat in restaurants.

Wendy's announced in June 2006 plans to eliminate trans fat from 6,300 restaurants starting in the United States and Canada, from August 2006.

And after years of testing and several delays, McDonald's announced in January 2007 that they will start phasing out the trans fat in their fries.

Here in Singapore, the Health Promotion Board (HPB) has been actively engaging local food manufacturers to voluntarily list the trans fat content of their products since 2004, as well as change their product formulation to reduce trans fat content.

FairPrice, with 52 per cent of the market share, is the first retailer in Singapore to initiate voluntary trans fat labelling, and has plans to increase the number of products carrying such labels.

By mid-2007, FairPrice hopes to increase the number of housebrand products with no trans fat to 40, and to more than 100 by mid-2008.

It says the cost of trans fat labelling will be absorbed by the company and will not be passed down to consumers.

It is also working with the HPB to launch a series of consumer education programmes on the importance of healthy eating and to help customers have a better understanding of fats and trans fat.

"Declaring the amount of trans fat... it’s just a number," says Teo Poh Yim, Director, Integrated Purchasing, NTUC FairPrice. "We need to educate the public on trans fat and healthy eating."

Customers will be able to learn through cooking demonstrations, public education materials and the information on shop shelves as well as messages on eating a balanced and healthy diet carried in the media.

The HPB recommends not more than 2g of trans fat a day for the average person who consumes 2000 calories a day – apparently two curry puffs are enough to take you to the limit.

And now that FairPrice has taken this active approach to promote healthier living, it believes it won’t take much to convince their suppliers to do the same, encouraging them to declare trans fat content on their product labels when they next change their labels.

Other retailers are also encouraged to do the same. "We hope that more retailers will do likewise and increase the choices of healthier foods for Singaporeans", says Lam Pin Woon, CEO, HPB.

Mr Lam says the HPB is currently in dialogue with other retailers such as Cold Storage, Giant and Shop N Save to start introducing trans fat labelling. - CNA/yy