A leading UK sugar confectioner has announced that the company will be removing hydrogenated fats from all its products as of 1 May 2006.
Food Design says that it will use instead an alternative non-hydrogenated vegetable oil across its confectionery range.
The company's development team has been experimenting with various alternatives, and claims to have found a way of incorporating oils that have no hydrogenation, and therefore low trans-fatty acids.
The announcement comes in direct response to government and customer concerns over the need to reduce the amount of trans-fatty acids in the diets of the UK population. Although concern has been greater in the US, awareness of the potential danger of trans fats has increased in Europe over the past few years.
Trans fats, which are mainly found in (partially) hydrogenated vegetable oil, common ingredients in thousands of food products, have been negatively linked to raising blood cholesterol levels and promoting heart disease. Although European consumers are becoming more aware that trans fatty acids can lead to increased serum levels of LDL cholesterol or 'bad' cholesterol, there is no labelling to help them differentiate between products.
Research shows that when too much 'bad' cholesterol circulates in the blood, it can slowly build up in the inner walls of the arteries that feed the heart and brain resulting in atherosclerosis.
However, a recent Government survey of the country's leading food companies revealed that only a small percentage are actively addressing the growing concern over the amount of fat contained within manufactured foods. City University's study on food industry attitudes was also scathing in its assessment of food industry initiatives.
"There is a pretty poor overall picture, with too many companies appearing not to care a jot," reported the City team, which comprised Prof Tim Lang, Dr Geof Rayner and Elizabeth Kaelin.
Indeed, there has been growing pressure for the whole of Europe to follow Denmark's example and force food makers to clearly label the presence of trans fats. This is the thinking behind the UK Campaign Against Trans Fats in Food, a web-based organisation that aims to put pressure on industry and regulators and raise awareness of the dangers of trans fats.
"Someone told me that hydrogenated oil was bad for you, and I was shocked when I found out for myself," said Oliver Tickell, founder of the UK campaign.
"I am still shocked that we allow this stuff in our food - I think this is one the public health scandals of our time."
Food Design is clearly keen to avoid becoming embroiled in what could become a bitter health battleground. And it claims that trials have shown that using non-hydrogenated vegetable oils has no negative impact on taste, look or performance.
"We believe that we have always been, and fully intend to continue to be, at the forefront of this nationwide initiative," said managing director Colin Hunter.
Food Design produces a wide range of fudge and toffee ingredients for the food manufacturing industry. It supplies products to the baking, chill and frozen desserts, drinks, ice cream, breakfast cereals, chocolate confectionery makers and for general food processing.