Singapore to ban partially hydrogenated oils in bakery and snacks by 2021

By Kristine Sherred

- Last updated on GMT

Trans fats are a common source of LDL-cholesterol, too much of which has been shown to exacerbate cardiovascular disease. Pic: Getty Images/miflippo
Trans fats are a common source of LDL-cholesterol, too much of which has been shown to exacerbate cardiovascular disease. Pic: Getty Images/miflippo

Related tags World health organisation Partially hydrogenated oils PHOs Singapore Regulation Health legislation Trans fat Clean label Fats

The nation’s Ministry of Health has decreed that all foods sold in Singapore – including bakery and snacks, whether made locally or imported – must be PHO-free within two years.

The government said its approach to artificial trans fats ‘aligns with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommendation as well as international practices.’

Six companies – which together comprise half of the PHO-heavy categories sold in Singapore – have already pledged their commitment to a self-imposed June 2020 deadline. They include Gardenia Foods, one of Singapore’s largest commercial bakers; Sunshine Bakeries, which focuses on wholegrain, ancient and sprouted grain loaves; and Nestlé Singapore.

The companies have committed to trans fat intakes that do not exceed 1% of total energy – or 2.2g per day in a 2k-calorie diet. Too much increases LDL-cholesterol, which can exacerbate the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Common sources of PHOs

Partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) are the main source of industrially produced trans fats. Dairy and meat, notably from cows and sheep, naturally carry trans fats.

The industrial kind permeated the foodscape in the early 1900s, swapped for butter; the mid-century population boom and industrialization of food manufacturing proliferated the use of PHOs.

Manufacturers – particularly of snacks, baked goods and fried foods – have turned to this varietal because of its longer shelf life.

About 10% of Singapore’s snacks, baked goods, prepared meals and fat spreads contain PHOs, according to the government’s announcement of the full-fledged ban.

10-year plan

Since 2010, Singapore has limited the amount of trans fat in fats and oils to 2%. As a result, the average citizen’s daily intake of trans fat has fallen more than 50% to about 1g.

The 2021 compliance date will ‘allow the industry time to reformulate their products or find new product sources,’ the government added, noting existing ingredient list requirements will remain intact.

Manufactures will have access to grants to assist reformulation through Enterprise Singapore, a government agency established in 2018 to support business development.

Existing global push

PHO rules worldwide

Federally, the US does not consider PHOs to be 'Generally Recognized As Safe' (GRAS)​, and has required manufacturers to list trans fat content on the Nutrition Facts label since 2006. The US Food and Drug Administration extended the deadline to eliminate PHOs in certain 'petitioned' uses by June 18 of this year, but the deadline for non-petitioned uses occurred last year. Products in distribution must be PHO-free by 2021.

Canada enacted similar legislation last September.

The EU has yet to fully ban PHOs but, like Singapore, has adopted a limit to the amount of trans fat in packaged foods​ to 2g per 100g of fat. That rule will apply starting in April 2021.

Last May, WHO unveiled a program called REPLACE that aims to eliminate trans fats from the global food supply.

It has called on governments to “[implement] the six strategic actions in the REPLACE package [to] help achieve the elimination of trans fat, and represent a major victory in the global fight against cardiovascular disease,” ​said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the organization’s director general.

Those tenets include a move to review sources of industrially produced trans fats and to promote their replacement. The REPLACE program also asked governments to enact legislation and pursue enforcement, in addition to monitoring trans fat content in their food supplies and, in turn, within their populations.

WHO heavily pushed this idea in 2018, but noted ‘several high-income countries’ have already cut out the troublesome fat through ‘legally imposed limits’ in packaged foods.

Denmark, for example, was the first to impose restrictions more than a decade ago, followed by New York City. Former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg said the ban enacted during his administration “helped reduce the number of heart attacks without changing the taste or cost of food.”

He compared the PHO-free movement to the ‘comprehensive approach to tobacco control’ that has curbed the drug’s use worldwide.

“Now, a similar approach to trans fat can help us make that kind of progress against cardiovascular disease, another of the world’s leading causes of preventable death,” ​said Bloomberg.

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