Still on the topic of fats, I've recently learned that trans fats are now a hot topic in the US. Last month they were been banned from about 24,000 restaurants in New York City.
In fact, trans fats have also come under close scrutiny in countries like Denmark, Canada and the United Kingdom. The measures taken have ranged from an outright ban, to laws requiring food manufacturers to state the amount of trans fat on their product labels.
What about Singapore? Bear in mind that Singapore is a country that generally just loves making things illegal. For example, we ban oral sex; gay sex; unlicensed public speeches; Jevohah's Witnesses; cats from HDB flats; durians from public buses; 4-man public demonstrations and non-constructive critics. One might think that trans fats are a sure target for a ban in Singapore. After all, trans fats have a definite link to heart disease and absolutely no known health benefit.
Surprise. According to this article, Singapore's Health Promotion Board does not think it's necessary to ban trans fats. It does not even think that it should be compulsory for food manufacturers to state the trans-fat content on their product labels.
The rationale? One reason given by the HPB is that Singaporeans consume less trans fats than Americans. So far, the average Singaporean's trans fats consumption is still within the World Health Organisation's recommended daily allowance (although it baffles me why the WHO recommends the daily consumption of anything clearly bad for your health).
More interesting reasons given by the HPB are these:
The HPB is hesitant to pass legislation on trans fat as this would result in trade barriers, especially since many food products sold here are imported from various counties.
"About 70 per cent of packaged food products currently do not carry trans fat labelling and will be affected," said HPB nutritionist Grace Soon. "This will drastically limit the choice of food Singaporeans have right now."
Legislation limiting trans fat to 5 per cent of a product's total fat content would affect 30 per cent of packaged food here.
I feel a little sad to see the Health Promotion Board provide such reasons. I checked their mission statement - it says things like "to empower Singaporeans to achieve optimal health" and "to ensure accessibility to health information and preventive health services".
It didn't say anything like, "to promote the business of fast-food restaurants" or "to facilitate international trade in food products". Should trade barrier issues really be in the purview of HPB nutritionists like Grace Soon?