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World Food Day: Groups task FG to eliminate spread of trans-fatty foods

Photo of Trans Fat foods used to illustrate the story

To commemorate World Food Day, advocacy groups in Nigeria have tasked the government to hasten the steps of gazetting into law the Fats and Oils Regulation Act 2019.

The proposed bill sets mandatory limits on the production and distribution of trans-fatty acid foods among local consumers in Nigeria. 

In a press briefing organised by the Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) in partnership with the Global Health Advocacy Incubator and Network for Health Equity and Development (NHED) on Monday, health experts emphasised the urgency to sign the bill into law as a matter of public health and safety emergency. 

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Joy Amafah, Nigeria Food and Nutrition Coordinator, GHAI, stressed that federal regulation is most important for the protection of the poor and vulnerable in society, who lack access to information on healthy food consumption and resources to highly-priced healthy foods.

This regulation, according to her, will ensure that only healthy foods circulate in the market and are reproduced at pocket-friendly prices for low-income neighbourhoods. 

“We at the Global Health Advocacy Incubator (GHAI) would like to reinforce the voices of advocates and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) to the Nigerian government, ministries of health and justice and regulatory bodies to make this aspect of nutrition one less burden to its citizens by hastening the finalisation of the regulation to limit the consumption of trans fatty acids from the Nigeria food supply chain.

“This will help cater to the needs of the population regardless of social class or status and encourage access to healthy food options for all. It will also safeguard Nigerians and reduce the inflow of trans-fatty foods in the market,” Ms Amafah said. 

Ms Amafah added that finalising the process of the regulation could potentially place Nigeria on the global front as the second African country to enact best practices to “eliminate industrially produced trans fatty acids, in line with the WHO REPLACE Action Framework.”

NHED project adviser Jerome O. Mafeni, stated that trans fats increase the risk of several heart diseases, including diabetes, obesity, cancers, dementia, and even death. She further stated that the eradication of trans-fatty foods is feasible and must be done by “working on many fronts at the same time.”

“Elimination of industrially produced TFA from food is feasible, and some countries are taking action, although until recently, this has been mostly in wealthy countries. Efforts need to move beyond high-income countries so that everyone can benefit from TFA elimination.

“Leaving no one behind means working on many fronts at the same time. It includes initiatives that accelerate agrifood systems’ transformation by eradicating poverty, ending hunger and malnutrition, reducing inequalities, promoting decent rural employment and services, fostering gender equality, ensuring social protection, ending child labour, and supporting local food production for vulnerable populations in food crisis countries,” she said.

The executive director of CAPPA, Akinbode Oluwafemi, said that the fight against cardiovascular diseases is beyond behavioural, stressing that the government needs to put strict measures in place to prohibit dangerous food substances from the market. 

“For emphasis, combating cardiovascular diseases is beyond behavioural change as the burden of these diseases needs conscious effort from the government to reduce its incidences,” he said, and advised Nigerians to be circumspect about food consumption pending the gazetting of the regulation. 

“In the interim, however, we urge Nigerians to be circumspect and avoid the consumption of Trans-Fatty foods which are risk factors for cardiovascular diseases. Trans fat can be found in baked foods, fries, pre-packaged foods, and cooking oils.

“It is also in butter, salmon, egg yolks and cows’ milk and foods we consider our favourites. On this premise, we can assert that there is no hiding place for any one of us unless the government acts and fast too,” he added. 

The 2019 Fat and Oils Regulation Act aims to reduce the permissible intake of trans fatty acids in the nation’s food supply. As the bill provides for access to healthy food options and decreases the entry of unsafe food items into Nigeria’s food market, a number of advocates for healthy eating are collaborating with the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) to make sure it is passed.