SINGAPORE: Food manufacturers Gardenia, Nestle and Sunshine Bakeries will ensure that products they make and sell in Singapore will be free of partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) by June next year. Such items will include bread and instant noodles.
Supermarkets NTUC FairPrice, Sheng Siong and Prime will do the same for their house brand products.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) announced on Thursday (Jun 6) that these manufacturers and supermarkets have pledged to be PHO-free for these products one year ahead of a nationwide ban on the substance, which will come into effect in June 2021. MOH announced the ban in March this year.
The six players account for 50 per cent of the market share across snacks, baked goods, prepared meals and fat spreads. These are food categories that commonly contain PHOs, MOH said.
Nestle and Sunshine Bakeries said more than 98 of their products in Singapore are already PHO-free, while Gardenia said its bread has been PHO-free since the early 2000s.
At a briefing held by MOH and the Health Promotion Board (HPB) on Thursday, MOH said the move is part of the Government’s ongoing efforts to create a healthier environment for the public.
READ: Singapore to ban partially hydrogenated oils, form of trans fat found in snacks and baked goods
PHOs, which are formed during partial hydrogenation - an industrial process which converts liquid oil to semi-solid fats to increase the shelf-life of products - are a form of artificial trans fats and are the key source of such fat in people’s diets, MOH said.
It is estimated that about 10 per cent of snacks, baked goods, prepared meals and fat spreads in Singapore currently contain PHOs.
Most of these foods are imported, HPB said.
“Trans fat consumption is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular diseases. There is no safe level of consumption of trans fat,” an MOH spokesperson said.
Singapore’s approach to artificial trans fat is aligned with the World Health Organisation’s recommendation as well as international practices, the health authority added.
Other countries, including the United States and Thailand, have already banned PHOs.
The ban will replace Singapore's current 2 per cent trans fat limit in fats and oils sold here, which has helped to halve the average daily trans fat intake among Singaporeans from 2.1g in 2010 to 1g in 2018, MOH said.
HPB said that despite the reduction, the average daily intake among some people, such as young adults aged between 18 and 39, is double the national average.
This is mainly due to their higher consumption of pre-packaged foods containing trans fat, a spokesperson added.
The industry will be provided with guidelines to facilitate a smooth transition, and to ensure compliance with the ban, MOH said, adding that Enterprise Singapore will also support food companies with an “enterprise development grant” for changing product formulas.
Alternative ingredients manufacturers can use include canola and sunflower oils.
Those who do not comply with the ban when it comes into effect will be asked to withdraw their products.
When asked about the need for a two-year buffer, despite some companies being able to be ready one year earlier, HPB said this is to be fair and to give smaller retailers who may order products with PHOs in smaller quantities more time to comply with the ban.
Still, as consumers start to identify “partially hydrogenated” in ingredient lists, they may start voting with their wallets, which would be a powerful incentive for companies to change more quickly, HPB said.
“MOH welcomes more manufacturers, importers, and retailers to commit to the pledge,” a spokesperson said.
Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Health Amrin Amin, who was on a site visit at a Sheng Siong supermarket outlet in Bukit Panjang, said that the ban comes at a time when there are enough substitutes for PHOs.
He reassured consumers that prices will not be affected.
"Based on our studies, we know there are enough alternatives, so we do not expect price increases. We have received feedback and assurance from retailers as well," he said.