The #TransfatFreeNigeria coalition has urged the National Agency for Food Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) to finalize the processes for completing its participation in the World Health Organisation – Trans fatty Acids (WHO-TFA) laboratory testing “ring-trial” so that the enhanced capacity to carry out testing will serve Nigeria and the entire West African Region.
The coalition made the call at a press briefing in Lagos with the theme: ‘Trans-fat and Cardiovascular Disease: Protecting the Health of the Populace’, convened by the Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA), the Network for Health Equity and Development (NHED), Civil Society Scaling Up Nutrition in Nigeria, Ave Health Sense, the Global Health Advocacy Incubator (GHAI), Nigeria Heart Foundation and the Resolve to Save Lives.
At the event, Technical Adviser TFA-free Nigeria Campaign, Dr. Jerome Mafeni said that while Nigerians await the approval of the draft Fat and Oils Regulations 2019 and the Pre-Packaged, Ice and Labelling Regulations of 2019, improving public understanding of industrially produced TFAs (iTFAs) reduction can be achieved by comparing it with the dangers of cigarette and tobacco consumption.
The draft regulations limit trans-fat to two per cent of the oil and fat content in all oils, fats, and food products.
Dr. Mafeni revealed that iTFAs are common in baked goods, pre-packaged foods, and some cooking oils, and are significant contributors to cardiovascular diseases (CVD) worldwide, estimated to contribute to over half a million deaths every year.
He said that some countries that have clear policies in place to check the TFA menace include Denmark and Canada, and that for Nigeria, some of the challenges to iTFA legislation include lack of awareness that TFAs are a significant public health challenge, lack of capacity of small and medium food producers to replace TFAs, and lack of replacement fats and technology.
He disclosed that the discourse around replacement of TFA with butter and palm oil is not tenable because of their high saturated fat content, and recommended instead, that replacement of iTFAs should mostly be with unsaturated fats.
Speaking on advocacy for elimination of trans fats in Nigeria, Executive director of CAPPA, Akinbode Oluwafemi explained that, “to ensure that Nigeria does not go below the standard recommended by the WHO in trans fats elimination, a coalition of non-governmental organisations under the #TransFatfreeNigeria Campaign Stakeholders was initiated.”
He also revealed that, “the #TransfatFreeNigeria campaign has been spearheading awareness creation on the dangers of trans fats consumption and the need for effective regulation to check trans fats in our foods. In early 2021 the campaign developed Public Service Announcements (PSA), continues to issue press releases and syndicate articles periodically to educate the public and sustain the pressure for speedy regulation to address the trans-fats menace.”
To ensure reports on trans fats in the media are in-depth, Mr Akinbode noted that “CAPPA recently organised trainings for journalists to sharpen their investigation skills and expose them to different perspectives of the trans fats debate. Some of the journalists have gone ahead to publish reports exposing how the food industry manipulates the delay in TFA regulation to introduce dangerous foods to unsuspecting Nigerians.”
On the regulation front, he noted that the coalition has built a robust partnership with the National Agency for Food Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and commend it for the draft “Fat and Oils Regulations 2019” and the “Pre-Packaged, Ice and Labelling Regulations of 2019” currently awaiting approval by the Governing Council of agency.
On her part, the Nigeria Coordinator for GHAI Resolve to Save Lives Cardiovascular Health Program, Joy Amafah said that in Nigeria there were approximately 854,000 estimated deaths in 2019, of which approximately 137,000 were attributed to cardiovascular deaths and 3,229 attributed to TFA-related cardiovascular deaths.
Amafah revealed that the Federal Ministry of Health and the WHO have noted a rapid change in Nigerian’s dietary habits towards excessive consumption of ultra-processed, packaged foods that are often laden with huge amounts of iTFA.
She went on to explain that taking from the backdrop of international best practices, countries in west Africa have begun the process towards trans-fat elimination, and that Nigeria as a leader in West Africa has the golden opportunity to be an example and reinforce this status by advancing a WHO “best buy” measure for protecting health, making populations more productive, and saving on health care costs through iTFA elimination.
Comments were taken from Mary Makanjuola of the Civil Society Scaling Up Nutrition in Nigeria, Dr. Terfa Kene of Ave Health Sense Ltd and Dr. Kingsley Akinroye of the Nigeria Heart Foundation. The briefing ended with a call on NAFDAC Governing Council to expedite approval of the draft Fat and Oils Regulations 2019 and the Pre-Packaged, Ice and Labelling Regulations of 2019.