Food industry facing fat flak
The Age; Kelly Burke; September 29, 2009
AUSTRALIANS’ saturated fat consumption remains unacceptably high because of food manufacturers’ reliance on cheap imported palm oil.
The Heart Foundation will tell the World Congress on Fats and Oils in Sydney today that the food manufacturing industry has run out of excuses for failing to switch to healthier alternatives.
For example, locally produced canola oil has 8 per cent saturated fat compared with palm oil’s 55 per cent.
While consumers were making healthier choices on the oil they cooked with, too many manufacturers and outlets were not doing the same, the foundation’s national director of healthy weight, Susan Anderson, said.
”They say it’s a cost issue, but it is also costing Australians their health,” she said.
Of particular concern to the foundation is the amount of fat consumed outside the home, with restaurants immune from food labelling laws.
”We’ve become so particular in the supermarket, but when we eat out we have no idea what our food is being cooked in,” Ms Anderson said. ”There is a lack of transparency about what’s going into a lot of our food.”
While some companies, such as McDonald’s, Unilever and Goodman Field, have voluntarily switched to healthier oils, an increase in the amount of cheap imported palm oil, from 113,000 tonnes in 2003 to 130,000 tonnes in 2007, showed the industry as a whole was resisting change.
According to Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), consumption of saturated fats and trans fatty acids (trans fat) combined should not exceed 10 per cent of total daily energy intake, but Australians on average were consuming about 1½ times that amount.
The food regulator has resisted mandatory labelling of trans fat, however, and also recently rejected a proposal to force manufacturers to disclose the presence of palm oil – often generically labelled on products as vegetable oil – in products.
FSANZ said the proposal was rejected because it was based on concerns involving the destruction of native rainforests and orang-utan habitats associated with palm oil production.
The regulator said it was not required to factor in environmental issues, and suggested consumers contact food manufacturers to determine the source of the vegetable oil in products.