Eliminating Trans Fat in Nigeria: “Legislate or Regulate”

Eliminating Trans Fat in Nigeria: “Legislate or Regulate”

The Word Health Organization (WHO) reports that more than 7 in every 10 deaths that occurs annually are often caused by noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), out of which deaths by cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) from trans fat intake account for 500, 000 deaths, globally. In Nigeria, specifically, a significant number of deaths linked to cardiovascular diseases are as a result of poor dietary choices including the intake of foods containing trans fat in the amount higher than the recommended 2.2 grams per day in a 2, 000 calorie diet.
In order to curb the increase in the number of deaths by CVDs, last year, the WHO released a guide tagged “REPLACE” to help governments to achieve the goal of eliminating trans fat globally by the year 2023. REPLACE stands for six steps to the achievement of this goal:

  • Review dietary sources of industrially-produced trans fat and the landscape for required policy change;
  • Promote the replacement of industrially-produced trans fat with healthier fat and oils;
  • Legislate or enact regulatory actions to eliminate industrially-produced trans fat;
  • Assess and monitor trans fat content in the food supply and changes in trans fat consumption in the population;
  • Create awareness of the negative health impact of trans fat among policy makers, producers, suppliers, and the public.; and
  • Enforce compliance of policies and regulations.

The WHO has developed a “Replace Action Package” consisting of modules which serve as a guide to performing each of the six strategic actions. The “Legislate or Regulate” module has key factors which the WHO recommends governments need to take into consideration while making policy reforms in this area.
The review of the 2005 Fats and Oils Regulation by the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) is a step by the Nigerian government towards eliminating trans fat in Nigeria. The recently reviewed and published Regulation – the Fats and Oils Regulation, 2019 covers all foods containing fats and oils which are manufactured, exported, imported, advertised, sold, distributed and used in Nigeria. It clearly prohibits anyone from performing these actions where a product or food containing fats and oils is concerned unless such has been duly registered as prescribed in the Regulation.

The Regulation addressed a key factor which is the restriction of the amount of trans fat in foods intended for human consumption or assumed to be intended for human consumption to not more than 2 grams per 100 grams of fat or oil. However, it is still lacking in some key elements recommended in the WHO’s How-to guide in the “Legislate or Regulate” module for policy action. For example, the Regulation does not define “trans fat” or “trans fatty acids”, the element sought to be eliminated; neither does it address specifically or differentiate between industrially produced trans fat (derived from vegetables) or naturally occurring trans fat (ruminant animals). The definition of such important terms need to be present in the Regulation to leave no room for ambiguity.

A major challenge to the elimination of trans fat in Nigeria which ought to be clearly addressed in the Regulation is the sale of unbranded cooking oils. The Regulation lays emphasis on packaged products or food containing fat and oils but it does not clearly address unpackaged/unbranded cooking oils
which is easily accessible to so many Nigerians. Specific provisions addressing this, strict implementation procedure and appropriate penalties for erring vendors must be in place to achieve the goal of eliminating trans fat in Nigeria.

For further reading:

  • WHO, ‘WHO plan to eliminate industrially-produced trans-fatty acids from global food supply’ (14 May 2018),
    https://www.who.int/news-room/detail/14-05-2018-who-plan-to-eliminate-industrially-produced-trans-fatty-acids-from-globalfood-
    supply
  • WHO, ‘REPLACE Trans Fat-Free by 2023’, https://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/replace-transfat
  • WHO, ‘Replace Action Package Module 3: Legislate Or Regulate’,
    https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/324822/WHO-NMH-NHD-19.14-eng.pdf

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