KANSAS CITY — Health Canada on April 7 issued a “notice of proposal” declaring its intention to prohibit the use of partially hydrogenated oils (phos) in all foods sold in Canada in the next year. The ministry said prohibiting the use of phos represents a significant and final step in its efforts to reduce trans fats in the Canadian food supply to the lowest possible level. Assuming the prohibition takes effect as intended, June 2018 may constitute a deadline for food manufacturers on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border to end the use of phos in food.
The notice of proposal was posted on-line on April 7, and the ministry will accept comments on it until June 21. The ministry recently concluded a 60-day public consultation on its proposal to prohibit phos, so the current comment period is the second on the subject. In its notice of proposal, Health Canada addressed and answered some of the concerns voiced by stakeholders during the earlier public consultation. Health Canada proposed that the prohibition take effect in the summer of 2018.
“Through the Healthy Eating Strategy, our government is working to make the healthier choice the easier choice,” said Jane Philpott, minister of health. “By prohibiting phos, we are removing the largest source of industrial trans fat from Canada’s food supply and helping reduce the risk of heart disease.”
Dr. Philpott was appointed minister of health by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in November 2015. In his mandate letter to Dr. Philpott, Mr. Trudeau directed her to, among other things, establish tougher regulations to eliminate trans fats “similar to those in the United States.”
The Healthy Eating Strategy referred to by Dr. Philpott was announced by Health Canada in October 2016. Among its goals was the reduction of trans fats in the Canadian food supply to achieve the World Health Organization’s public health goal of reducing the intake of trans fats to less than 1% of total energy.
In its notice of proposal, Health Canada explained that since the early 2000s, it has pursued a multi-faceted approach aimed at reducing trans fat intakes, including mandatory labeling of trans fats in the Nutrition Facts Panel (Canada in 2002 became the first country to introduce mandatory labeling of trans fats), the setting of regulatory criteria for the use of “trans fat free” claims, as well as the adoption of voluntary targets for trans fats in processed foods, accompanied by a monitoring program.
“Although this approach has proved successful in reducing the trans fat levels in the Canadian food supply, some foods still contain industrially produced trans fats, namely phos,” the ministry said. “These foods include some commercially baked goods (e.g. cookies), some shortenings and certain types of margarines. This can be a health concern for Canadians who choose these foods regularly, and for vulnerable subpopulations who are at risk for higher trans fat intakes, such as children and teens, Canadians in remote areas and price-sensitive consumers.”
Health Canada said the current voluntary approach relying on food manufacturers to adopt targets for reducing trans fats in foods hasn’t adequately addressed products that still contain phos and would not enable the government to meet the public health goal of reducing the intake of trans fats to less than 1% of total energy intake.
“Prohibiting the use of phos will ensure that industrially produced trans fats are virtually eliminated from foods, making the desired goal achievable, and will prevent the food industry from reintroducing phos into foods sold in Canada,” the ministry said.
The notice of proposal indicated Health Canada would implement the prohibition by adding phos to Part 1 of the List of Contaminants and Other Adulterating Substances in Foods. Part 1 lists substances that, if present in food at any level, would result in the food being declared as adulterated.