A coalition of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) against trans-fat (TFA) in Nigeria, has urged Nigerians to reject foods made with the hydrogenated oil, especially the industrially-produced trans-fatty acids which it said resulted to 1,300 deaths in 2010.
The trans-fat is classified as an unhealthy substance made through the chemical process of hydrogenation of oils and meant to solidifies liquid oils and increases the shelf life and the flavour stability of oils and foods that contain them.
The coalition consisting of the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Health Nigeria (ERA-FoEN), Global Health Advocacy Incubator (GHAI), Nigeria Heart Foundation (NHF) and the Network for Health Equity and Development (NHED) said hydrogenated fats could cause cardiovascular diseases and cancer if urgent actions were not taken to regulate its use, especially by fast food operators.
Mr. Akinbode Oluwafemi, the Deputy Executive Director, ERA/FoEN, who read the position of the coalition, said that in the last decade, experts have watched with consternation how the food industry inundated the nation’s shores with industrially-produced trans fats to the detriment of the health of citizens.
“Cases of diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, obesity and other illnesses hitherto strange to our land have suddenly become rampant among Nigerians and particularly threatening the old who should be resting after putting their productive years into serving the nation, and the young and vibrant generation who are supposed to be on the drivers’ seat in nation building,” Oluwafemi said.
He said that in 2010 alone, about 1,300 Nigerians died from causes attributed to high trans-fat intake, warning that except legislation is put in place to checkmate the food industry and use of industrially-produced trans fats, another major public health crisis may berth.
He said, “The issue of trans-fat is the story of a slow poison in our food chain. We can no longer fold our arms and watch our lives cut short by this deadly product. The government must wake up and act, the citizens also must act by rejecting foods with trans-fat.”
He, however, noted that the coalition is pressurising the National Agency for Food Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) to approve the Fats and Oils Regulation 2019.
Also, the Project Adviser Trans-fat, Dr. Jerome Mafeni, listed ailments like heart disease, hypertension, blockage of the arteries, kidney disease among others that could become serious medical issues for those consuming the industrialised trans-fats.
He said that the Federal Government has already started the process by setting a two percent limit of trans-fat from total fat content in all foods.
Mafeni said, “They convert the oil from the liquid state to a solid state so that it can have the capacity to withstand very deep fry and very long shelf life. Because they are industrially produced, they help industries to basically produce foods in large quantities and very efficiently. It has been going on for a while but we feel it needs to be stopped.
“These trans fatty acids have the potential to cause heart disease, stroke, hypertension, blockage of the arteries. It also has the potential to cause kidney disease, diabetes, obesity, and cancers. They can cause so many damages, so really, we don’t have any reason to have them in our food supply.”
The coalition, therefore, demanded a need for the Federal Government to declare an emergency in the food sector and commence massive awareness of the dangers of industrially-produced trans fats intake.
They urged NAFDAC to reflect the recommendations of civil societies and other critical stakeholders in the draft Fats and Oils Regulation 2019 and the Pre-Packaged Foods, Water and Ice Labelling Regulations 2019 to ensure they are in sync with the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended standards.