M&S bans man-made fats from foods as health fears increase




M&S bans man-made fats from foods as health fears increase

MARKS & SPENCER is to become the first big retailer to ban man-made
fats from its foods, pledging to remove them by April, write Jonathan
Leake and John Elliott.
The move follows concern about the substances - known as hydrogenated
vegetable fats - which have been linked with heart disease, narrowing
of blood vessels and diabetes.

Hydrogenated fats are believed to pose a significantly higher health
risk than naturally occurring fats.

In Britain, the fats are widely used in biscuits, cakes, pastry,
margarine and ready meals. The fast-food industry also makes wide use
of hydrogenated oils for frying. There is no obligation to declare the
fats on labels.

In America, many food companies have announced they are to stop using
such fats. The US government has ordered companies to detail such fats
on food packaging.

The Food Standards Agency in Britain is considering a similar move,
informing food manufacturers and retailers that they may soon be
required to label all foods containing the fats.

The agency said: "These fats can raise blood cholesterol levels and
increase the risk of coronary heart disease."

Of the 5,000 food lines sold by Marks & Spencer, 1,200 were, until
recently, made with hydrogenated vegetable fats. By the end of this
month, that should have been cut to about 700.

Guy Farrant, director of food at Marks & Spencer, said: "We have
removed hydrogenated vegetable fats from our ready meals and we are now
working to remove them from all our food products by mid-2006."

The fats are made by heating natural fats such as soya or palm oil to
more than 250C and then bubbling hydrogen through them.

This turns the oil from a liquid to a dense waxy tasteless solid that
improves texture, binds food particles together and prolongs food's
shelf life.

However, research has shown that hydrogenated fats shorten human life.
The main problem lies with a sub-set of fats formed during
hydrogenation known as trans fats.

Studies link these fats with raised cholesterol and narrowing of blood
vessels, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. They also make
the body resistant to insulin, raising the risk of diabetes.

Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University, London, welcomed
Marks & Spencer's decision. He said: "Why has it taken so long?
Hydrogenated vegetable fats are uniquely bad for consumers in every

Tesco and Waitrose have also promised to cut the use of such fats in
own-brand food.

Jane Landon, associate director of the National Heart Forum, said the
key question was what Marks & Spencer would use instead. She said:
"They need to avoid replacing them with other forms of harmful