WITH the lapse in the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC)’s deadline for public comments on guidelines and regulations on use of fats and oils, pre-packaged foods, water and ice labeling, Nigeria may soon join the league of countries regulating trans fats globally. And it is expected that the regulation would result in better health for Nigerians.
NAFDAC’s draft regulations for which it solicited public comments, criticisms or inputs, was published and uploaded on its website February 9, 2020 and ran till Monday, March 9, 2020.
The agency’s concerns for the regulation of trans fats grew out of concerns raised by health institutions, pro-health groups, health experts and even environmentalists over the increasing health hazards caused by the intake of trans fats locally and internationally.
Trans fats are unsaturated fats associated with a number of negative health effects. Artificial trans fat is created during hydrogenation, which converts liquid vegetable oils into semi-solid partially hydrogenated oil. Trans fat can also be found naturally in meat and dairy. Natural trans fats occur in the meat and dairy from ruminant animals, such as cattle, sheep and goats. They form naturally when bacteria in the animal’s stomachs digest grass.
In view of their negative health effect, the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2003 recommended that trans fats make up no more than 0.9 per cent of an individual’s diet. In 2018, it introduced a six-step guide to eliminate industrially produced trans-fatty acids from the global food supply. In May last year, the WHO unveiled a plan to eliminate the use of trans fats, extending progress in wealthier countries to those in poorer ones.
Countries like the United States of America (USA) and European Union (EU) have also set legal limits to trans fat content. The EU particularly adopted a regulation on Wednesday, April 24, 2019 to curb trans fat amounts in products like snack food as part of efforts to fight heart disease and strokes in Europe. The EU’s executive arm, the European Commission, set the limit from April 2, 2021 at two grammes of industrial trans fats per 100 grammes of fat in food, saying, “Regulation also requires wholesalers to notify retailers of any food that contains more than the limit. The measure aims at protecting consumers’ health and providing Europeans with healthier food options.”
In Nigeria, the emergence of fast foods, eating outside homes and an increasing consumption of junk food may have caused an upsurge in the intake of trans fats with its attendant negative health effects. Thus, public health experts and other pro-health groups believe that NAFDAC’s regulations on fats and oils and pre-packaged foods would reduce the health hazards associated with trans fats.
Specifically, Section 8 of the regulation titled ‘Labelling, Limits and Claims for trans fats states: (1) Fats, oils and other foods intended for human consumption of which the content of trans fat exceeds two grammes per 100 grammes of oil or fat are prohibited; (2) Where a claim that a foodstuff is “trans fat free” is made on the label or in an advertisement, the content of trans fat shall be less than one gramme of the total fat or oil in the final product. (3) For a product that contains two grammes of fat or more, the nutritional label shall indicate the types and levels of each of the fat components in the product as saturated fatty acids, trans fatty acids, trans fatty acids and cholesterol.”
Section 10 of the regulation titled ‘Clear prominent statements’ states: (1) Any statement that is required to appear on the label of a pre-packaged food product shall be clear, prominent and legible to the consumer and be of contrasting colour to that of the background.
(2) Information shall not be obscured by design or by other written, printed or graphic matter contained on the label.
(3) The statement of identity of the product shall be presented in bold type on the principal display and shall be of a size reasonably related to the most prominent printed matter on such panel and shall be in line generally parallel to the base on which the package rests as it is designed to be displayed.
(4) The net content of the product shall be printed on the principal display panel.
(5) Where the container is covered by a wrapper, the wrapper shall carry the necessary information or the label on the container shall be readily legible through the outer wrapper and not obscured by it, while section 13 stipulated that the batch number shall be indicated on the label of all pre-packaged food products.
For pre-packaged foods, Section 19 titled ‘Nutritional information’ stipulates: (1) Nutrient labeling shall be mandatory for any pre-packaged food and other foods for which a nutrition or health claims is made except–(a) single ingredient foods, (b) spices and herbs, (c) small units where the largest surface areas is less than 10cm2 (d) nutritionally insignificant foods.
(2) Any nutritional claim shall be justified expressly in the nutritional information of the food product label.
(3) Nutritional Information or nutritional facts per 100 grammes or 100 millilitres or per serving of the product shall be given on the label containing the following–(a) energy value in KJ/kcal; (b) the amounts of fat (specify saturates and trans fat), carbohydrate (specify quantity of sugar), protein, and (c) salt. (d) The amount of any other nutrient for which a nutrition or health claim is made.
(4) For products containing fats and oils including emulsions with fat as the continuous phase, either alone or as part of processed food (a) The amount or type of fatty acids or the amount of cholesterol; the amount of saturated fatty acids, monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids in gramme and cholesterol in milligramme shall be declared and the amount of trans fatty acid in gram shall be declared in addition to the other requirement stipulated above;
(b) When the nutrition declaration is applied, vitamins and minerals which are present in amount less than 5 per cent of the Nutrient Reference Value per 100g or 100 ml or per serving, as quantified on the label shall not be declared. (c) Vitamins and minerals shall be expressed per 100g/ml and as a percentage on Nutrient Reference Value.
Section 23 of the regulation, which deals with offenses and penalties states: (1) Any person who contravenes any of the provisions of these regulations commits an offense and shall be liable on conviction, in case of -(a) an individual, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year or to a fine not exceeding N300,000 or to both; and (b) a body corporate, to a fine not exceeding N500, 000.
(2) Where an offence under these Regulations is committed by a body corporate, firm or other association of individuals every – (a) director, manager, secretary or other similar officer of the body corporate; (b) partner or officer of the firm; (c) trustee of the body concerned; (d) person concerned in the management of the affairs of the association ;or (e) person who purports to act in a capacity referred to in paragraphs (a) to (d) of this sub-regulation, is severally liable to be proceeded against and punished for that offense in the same manner as if he had himself committed the offense, unless he proves that the act or omission constituting the offense took place without his knowledge, consent or connivance.
In their quest to eliminate trans fat in Nigeria, public health experts had called for legislation or regulation, both of which NAFDAC seem to have done.
And to further strengthen the regulations, they recommended, among other things: That NAFDAC adopts the same title description for section 8 in the table of contents and body of the regulation and that NAFDAC maintains the same style of description of nutritional values in grams across board, that is, use the numerical value of “per 100gs of total fat or oil” in sections 8 (1), 8 (2) and 8 (3);
That the word “final” be deleted so that the section has full application across the food supply chain and not just the final product;
That WHO definition is recommended as it removes technicalities, which may hinder easier assimilation and understanding for the purposes of interpretation;
That distinction be made between varied actors in the food supply chain, frequency of offences, and inclusion of non-monetary penalties such as food recalls; and
That it would still be in the consumers’ interest to include labeling on fats and oils, which are single ingredient foods with specific reference to pre-packaged foods, water and ice labeling regulation 2019.
They had based their arguments on WHO’s reports that about seven in every 10 deaths that occur annually are often caused by non-communicable diseases (NCDs), of which deaths by cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) from trans fats intake account for 500, 000 casualties globally.
“In Nigeria, specifically, a significant number of deaths linked to cardiovascular diseases are as a result of poor dietary choices including the intake of foods containing trans fat in the amount higher than the recommended 2.2 grams per day in a 2,000 calorie diet.
“To curb the increase in the number of deaths by CVDs, last year, the WHO released a guide tagged “REPLACE” to help governments to achieve the goal of eliminating trans fats globally by the year 2023. REPLACE stands for six steps to the achievement of this goal.
“They are, Review dietary sources of industrially-produced trans fat and the landscape for required policy change; Promote the replacement of industrially-produced trans fat with healthier fat and oils; Legislate or enact regulatory actions to eliminate industrially-produced trans fat; Assess and monitor trans fat content in the food supply and changes in trans fat consumption in the population; Create awareness of the negative health impact of trans fat among policy makers, producers, suppliers, and the public; and Enforce compliance of policies and regulations,” a report stated.
NAFDAC’s new regulations seem set to achieve these goals and even more, which is why it must take into cognizance pro-health recommendations that the regulations comply with global standards which will ultimately safeguard public health and end deaths associated with trans fats in Nigeria.