Labelling misses mark as food fats slip through the cracks
A study has found that an alarming number of foods in Jamaica are high in trans and saturated fats, with some products on local shelves registering traces despite being labelled as free of the substances.
The findings are troubling for health authorities as Jamaica aims to reduce the burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) by 25 per cent by 2025. NCDs account for at least 70 per cent of deaths locally.
The results of two samples, corned beef and mayonnaise, showed that they both contained trans fat, even though their labels stated otherwise.
Of the total sample, only 73 per cent and 63 per cent of the items had information about total fats and saturated fats, respectively.
Just under 300 food items were tested through a process of gas chromatography, which separated the different types of fats.
The study, which sought to determine the concentrations of fatty acids in commonly consumed Jamaican foods, was conducted by the Ministry of Health and Wellness in collaboration with the CARICOM Food and Nutrition Project, Resolve to Save Lives, and the University of Technology, Jamaica.
Among the categories of food assessed were dairy, spreads, cooking oils, fast foods, desserts, breakfast cereals, snacks, confectionery, canned meats, condiments, beverages, infant foods, canned foods, and pasta.
Professor of public health nutrition, Fitzroy Henry, stated that 45 per cent of the foods sampled were labelled ‘Made in Jamaica’ while others were produced in the United States, Trinidad, Thailand, Malaysia, and other countries.
Eighty per cent of beverages and more than half of the dairy products, baked goods, canned meats, and cooking oils tested were high in saturated fats or greater than 30 per cent.
The infant foods and canned foods tested had no trans fat, but more than half of the former and a third of the latter had a concentration of saturated fats greater than 30 per cent.
Additionally, three in every 10 dairy products and more than 10 per cent of spreads, cooking oil, and fast foods sampled contained high trans fat levels, or more than two per cent.
“This means that our approach cannot be just singular. It must be looking at trans fat, saturated fats, sodium, and sugars as we move forward, in terms of tackling NCDs,” Henry said.
One hundred and seventy-five of the products sampled had trans fat labels. Of that number, 168 were labelled ‘zero trans fat’.
The remaining seven items were labelled as containing trans fat greater than zero.
Henry highlighted that in other countries, manufacturers are allowed to label products as trans fat free if they have less than a specified amount.
“I speak with many manufacturers and they say that they use the FDA information and put it on the label, not necessarily doing the analysis,” he revealed, adding that bigger companies have more resources to conduct analysis.
In his address, Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton said that the findings were eye-opening and worrying,as he emphasised the need to correct misleading information on food packages.
He said that food consumption impacts quality of life, and, therefore, front-of-package labelling cannot be detached from the conversation about the type and amount of fats included in products.
The health minister said the study revealed that while there is no law and requirement for labelling, Jamaica and the wider CARICOM are working towards that goal.
“In other jurisdictions, there are specific laws and among main trading partners, and what is very clear is that we are applying a double standard in terms of the requirements to meet the trading partners market, but as far as our own people are concerned, it probably is not that important,” said Tufton.
“From a legislative perspective, there seems to be not enough urgency to level the playing field, at least to ensure that our consumers have a right to know exactly what they are putting in their bodies,” Tufton said.
He added that Jamaica would not be able to keep up with the cost of healthcare if the components of healthy living are ignored.