The Hong Kong government has said that it has no plans to follow a new U.S. food policy that prohibits the use of partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) in food.

Secretary for Food and Health Dr. Ko Wing-man said on Wednesday that the government has been monitoring international developments in regulating PHOs, the primary dietary source of trans fat.

PHOs are often added to foods to extend their shelf life and are found in a variety of products such as deep fried food, chips, coffee creamers and shortening.

The US government announced regulations last month that essentially banned trans fat from all processed foods. The new rule prohibited PHOs from being added to foods after June 18, 2018 without specific approval from the US Food and Drug Administration.

Trans fat has been shown to raise the “bad”, or LDL, cholesterol level in the blood, which can increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and type two diabetes. The FDA expects the ban to reduce coronary heart disease and prevent thousands of fatal heart attacks every year.

Trans fat in nutrition facts labels. Photo: Ellie Ng.

However, Dr. Ko said that the Hong Kong government would not follow suit, citing the Codex Alimentarius Commission – which is jointly set up by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Health Organisation. The commission does not recommend the regulation of PHOs as food additives.

But Dr. Ko added that his bureau would examine the need to regulate trans fats according to the latest international developments.

According to a study conducted by the local government’s Centre for Food Safety in 2012, there has been a declining trend in the average trans fat content in food samples. Dr. Ko said that the results show that the food industry itself has effectively reduced trans fat level in their products.

While the Hong Kong government appears reluctant to impose regulations on trans fat in food, currently six European countries – Denmark, Austria, Hungary, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland – have set limits that virtually ban them from food products.

The World Health Organisation has said that removing trans fats from the food supply is “one of the most straightforward public health interventions for reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases and some cancers.”

The organisation found that consumption of only five gram of trans fat per day is associated with a 23 percent increase in the risk of coronary heart disease.

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Ellie Ng has written for Foreign Policy, the Daily Telegraph, Global Voices Online and others.