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Global agribusiness giant Cargill’s complete edible oils portfolio now complies with the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) best practice on industrially-produced trans fatty acids (iTFAs).

On completion of its commitment made in 2021, the move would help the company and its customers comply with the WHO’s recommended standard of a maximum of 2g iTFA/100g fats and oils, including in countries where there was currently no legislative mandate, Cargill said on 1 February.

iTFAs – as opposed to naturally-occurring TFAs from the meat and milk fat of ruminant animals – are created by partial hydrogenation of oils to turn them into semi-solid or solid fats, which have increased resistance to oxidation and a longer shelf-life. They can be found in margarine, vegetable shortening, vanaspati ghee, fried foods and baked goods, and it is estimated that excess TFA intake leads to up to 500,000 deaths/year from coronary heart disease, due to their effect in raising low density lipoprotein (‘bad’) cholesterol in blood, while lowering levels of high density lipoprotein (‘good’) cholesterol.

iTFAs also result from high thermal treatment during the refining process.

The WHO’s REPLACE initiative provides a guide for governments and industry to implement best practice on iTFA in the global food supply chain to address related health concerns.

“Taking this … step, even in countries without current iTFA legislation, helps ensure consistency in our supply chain for larger food manufacturers, while offering Cargill’s … experience to smaller manufacturers,” Natasha Orlova, Cargill vice president for edible oils and managing director for North America, said.

As part of its commitment to remove iTFAs from its edible oil portfolio, Cargill said it had invested an additional US$8.5M to upgrade facilities to reduce the amount of trans fat produced during oil processing, while working with more than 100 additional customers in 24 countries to reformulate new product solutions.

To ensure compliance, Cargill said it had added iTFAs to its food safety and quality assurance programme, which includes multiple layers of monitoring, compliance and auditing.

In its latest progress report, the WHO noted that policies limiting the use of iTFAs had only been implemented in 60 of the world’s countries, covering approximately 43% of the global population.

The report called on major suppliers of oils and fats to follow Cargill’s move to remove industrially produced iTFA from products that are sold to food manufacturers globally.

“We have proven it is not only feasible to meet the iTFA recommendations while being mindful of saturated fat levels, but it can also be done without discernably changing the taste or texture of consumers’ favourite foods,” Orlova said.

In addition, Cargill said it had taken steps to help advance industry-wide reformulation during the past two years, particularly in countries that did not have iTFA regulation at the time of the company’s commitment.

For example, Cargill partnered with the Sustainable Development Policy Institute on a public awareness campaign in Pakistan, while in Malaysia and Mexico, the company worked with industry, academic and government stakeholders to raise awareness of WHO best practices, while sharing experiences and expertise in iTFA reformulation.