WHO Considering Food Labeling Reforms, Global Phase-out of Partially Hydrogenated Oils

Food Labeling

WASHINGTON—A World Health Organization (WHO) proposal to implement its strategy to combat diet-related disease includes a recommendation that governments around the world phase out partially hydrogenated oils if trans-fat labeling alone doesn’t spur significant reductions in their use.

The recommendation was put forth by the WHO in a proposed action plan for its food standards rulemaking body, the Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex) . Codex, funded jointly by the WHO and the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, develops model regulatory policies for the U.S. and more than 150 other countries. Its regulatory standards and guidelines help govern the $500 billion a year international food trade.

The plan also calls for a series of food labeling reforms, including restrictions on “trans-fat-free” claims on foods that are high in saturated fat; consistent rules for health claims in food advertising and labeling; and requirements for food labels to disclose the percentage of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and added sugar when companies make marketing claims about those ingredients.

“If implemented, the action plan would be an important step in combating the global epidemic of diet-related disease and obesity,” stated Bruce Silverglade, director of legal affairs for the Center for Science in the Public Interest and President of the International Association of Consumer Food Organizations. “We hope the Bush Administration will support this effort, in contrast to its attempts to water down previous global diet and health initiatives.”

Codex will finalize the proposed action plan after accepting comments from governments and recognized representatives of industry and consumer organizations. Codex committees will then draft specific rules implementing the final action plan. The process can take several years.

CSPI has petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to implement several reforms similar to the ones proposed by the WHO. In 2005 CSPI urged the FDA to revoke its approval for partially hydrogenated oils, the leading source of heart-attack-inducing trans fat in the American diet. For many years CSPI has also pressed the FDA to require quantitative ingredient labeling, which would require food companies to disclose the presence of key ingredients. For a product like Smucker’s strawberry “Simply 100% Fruit,” that step would require the embarrassing disclosure on labels that the spread contains only 30 percent strawberries.