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China Seeks Skinny on Trans Fat

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China seeks skinny on trans fat 

A staff member at a bakery works on a yacht cake at an exhibition in Beijing on Sept 10. Cakes are one of the foods that contain trans fat, which poses threats to health. [China Daily

China is evaluating the risks of trans fat used by the food industry, a spokesman with the Ministry of Health said on Tuesday.

Ministry spokesman Deng Haihua told a press conference that the ministry will revise standards following the evaluation. The threat to health posed by trans fat has been a hot topic in the past week in China. It is widely used in foods that contain margarine, such as bread, cake, cheese, ice cream and cookies.

A new study found that one in four Chinese adults is suffering from diabetes or pre-diabetes, which could be connected to the widespread consumption of margarine in foods.

The International Diabetes Federation released its latest research results on Monday, saying China has 92.4 million people with diabetes, with more than 15 percent of people aged 20 and above suffering pre-diabetes. The incidence of diabetes was 5.5 percent in 2002 and 9.7 percent in 2008.

State broadcaster CCTV quoted an earlier study from Harvard University saying that eating trans fat, like that contained in margarine, can increase the chance of diabetes, harm children's nervous systems and even cause infertility.

Deng Zeyuan, deputy head of the bioscience school of Nanchang University, said: "I believe the government should start by banning trans fat production."

Zhang Jian, a nutritionist with the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said that the situation is not as bad as it seems.

He said China had been monitoring trans fat in food since 2003, and the latest research found Chinese people on average take in 0.6 grams of trans fat every day.

"It is far blow the 2-gram dosage recommended by the World Health Organization," he said.

"Moreover, a series of policies restricting trans fat have been published, for example the national standard on trans fat in infant food that came out just this year," Zhang said.

Margarine, made with trans fat, swept Europe during World War I because fat was in short supply. Nevertheless, researchers later found trans fat could harm people's health, so governments in Denmark, the United States, Canada, France, Sweden, the Netherlands and Brazil restricted the use of margarine between 2003 and 2008.

Chen Junshi, head of the Expert Advisory Committee on Food Safety of the Ministry of Health, said China has not put in place any restrictions on trans fat because "assessment over the current situation is not yet complete".

According to a report by the Chongqing Evening News, 87 percent of 167 food products randomly selected from supermarkets contained margarine. Margarine was found in 95 percent of cakes and breads, 90 percent of ice cream and 71 percent of cookies.

"I have no idea what trans fat is, but I know from newspapers that it harms one's health," said Ge Conghui from Nanjing, Jiangsu province.

Ge said she never bought products that list margarine on the package, but she had never asked whether the cakes at bakeries contain margarine.

(China Daily November 10, 2010)

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