To stop transfat — an agent of slow death from claiming more lives in Nigeria, the #TransfatfreeNigeria coalition has urged the National Agency for Food Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) to fast-track the enactment and gazetting of regulations targeted at eliminating industrially produced trans-fat (iTFA) in Africa’s most populous country.
The coalition at a media briefing in Lagos, Tuesday, said this will spur the country to reach its goal of replacing trans-fats with healthier alternatives by 2023 and boost Nigeria’s participation in the World Health Organisation – Trans fatty Acids (WHO-TFA) laboratory testing “ring-trial.”
The coalition comprise 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.
The New Diplomat reports that as of the time of this reporting, NAFDAC is yet to approve the draft Fat and Oils Regulations 2019 and the Pre-Packaged, Ice and Labelling Regulations of 2019, about two years since it first called for contributions from stakeholders.
The draft regulations when enacted is expected to limit trans-fat to two per cent of the oil and fat content in all oils, fats, and food products.
Technical Adviser TFA-free Nigeria Campaign, Dr. Jerome Mafeni lamented that there has been an extensive delay since the completion of technical drafting for the two proposed regulations, noting that “these approvals must be prioritized so that the process of regulations and enforcement can commence.”
According to Mafeni, “improving public understanding of iTFA elimination or reduction can be achieved by comparing it with cigarette and tobacco consumption. For example, the intake of 5g of iTFAs per day is the same as smoking ten cigarettes per day because both lead to a 20 – 25% increased CVD risk.”
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 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, and 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, he added that CAPPA recently organised trainings for journalists to sharpen their investigative 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.
In her remarks, the Nigeria Coordinator for GHAI Resolve to Save Lives Cardiovascular Health Program, Ms. 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, who revealed that WHO is in the process of setting up a certification process to certify countries that have successfully eliminated trans fat, urged Nigeria to put the right regulations in place to prevent further deaths from trans fat intake.
“It’s worthy to note that more than 29 countries around the globe have taken decisive steps to eliminate TFAs already. We look forward to seeing Nigeria listed in the WHO certification report later this year as one of the countries who have enacted best practices on TFA elimination,” she said.