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Negative about Trans fat labelling

January 24, 2007

My eyes were not quite fully opened when I checked the online newspapers this morning. So you can imagine my excitement when I saw a front page story in today’s TODAY newspaper about trans fat labelling.

Did the government change its mind?

Alas, I was still half asleep. The real story was about another “No” from the government – another adamant “No” to compulsory trans fat labelling.

Perhaps as a sort of consolation, the Minister of State for Health, Mr Heng Chee How, announced that the Health Promotion Board was working at encouraging food manufacturers to adopt “positive labelling” – by having those with no/low trans fat products voluntarily say so.

There is nothing (well, maybe a little) positive about such labelling. They are marketing, er, “strategies” that do not require any encouragement from the government. Once consumers become aware that trans fats are deadly, these companies will be more than happy to proclaim their products as having “No Trans Fats” or “Low Trans Fats”.

It’s like those “No cholesterol”, “No sugar”, “No MSG” slogans that we already have. Did we need the HPB to encourage all these?

No, HPB.

Are these slogans helpful?

Again, No. Mostly no anyway, just sometimes yes.

More likely, such slogans serve to confuse consumers and distract their attention from the real issues.

For example, “No cholesterol” on margarine labels actually means “contains deadly trans fats”. On peanut butters, the same slogan “No cholesterol” actually has no meaning, because peanut butter is not supposed to contain cholesterol in the first place. It is as good, or as bad, as labelling a packet of carrots “No meat”.

“No sugar” and “No calories” labels are another group of no, no’s. What they really mean is “contains aspartame” an artificial sweetener that is many times more harmful than sugar.

In case you don’t no, opps! I mean don’t know, aspartame has been associated with migraine headaches, epileptic seizures , certain types of cancers, and a whole long list of health problems. They are as bad as trans fats!

What about “No artificial colouring”? Check the ingredients list and you might discover that it contains chemical preservatives. And vice versa. “No preservatives” could mean that the product contains artificial colouring, artificial flavouring and various other chemical poisons.

Such slogans, more often than not, distract rather than educate consumers.

Let’s consider what “No trans fat” could possibly mean:

  • First, it could mean “contains less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving” if current US legislation on trans fat labelling is followed. And if you look carefully, you will discover that a “serving” is usually much less than what you would normally eat. For example, a serving of margarine is about 1 tsp, hardly enough to spread over a slice of bread! So in one meal, you could end up eating 4 or 5 or more “servings”. You could end up consuming 2 or more grams of trans fats – enough to increase your risks of various diseases considerably – even though, according to the label, you are consuming “No trans fats”.
  • Secondly, as someone complained to the ST Forum online recently, “No trans fats” could mean made with fully hydrogenated oils, rather than partially hydrogenated oils. It is true that fully hydrogenated oils have no more trans fats left. Because the oil molecules, instead of being partially modified, have now become fully modified. Fully hydrogenated oils are hard and INEDIBLE.
  • Thirdly, in the case of regular cooking oils such as corn, soybean, etc, “No trans fats” again does not mean that they are healthy. Unless they had been cold-pressed, and stored in dark bottles in cool places, these oils had already turned rancid. Or if you cook them at high temperatures, you make them rancid.

So don’t get too excited when the government introduces positive labelling for products with “No trans fats”.

Sure, there will be companies with genuinely good, healthy products. These will likely contain a long list of No’s – No trans fats, no MSG, no aspartame, no chemical preservatives, no artificial colouring, no artificial flavouring…

In short, no half truths.

Consider what Benjamin Franklin, the great scientist, inventor, writer, statesman… and one of the founding fathers of the USA had to say:

Half a truth is often a great lie!

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