More than a decade after promising action, the government of Canada continues to inch its way towards banning the main source of artificial trans fats in our diets.
On Friday, Health Canada released a "Notice of Proposal" to prohibit use of industrially produced partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs.)
The oils are the main source of trans fats in foods that raise levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or "bad" cholesterol and lower "good" cholesterol and can take a toll on our heart health.
They are used in production of pastries, other baked goods and some packaged goods to extend shelf life.
"Prohibiting the use of PHOs in all foods sold in Canada represents a significant and final step in Health Canada's efforts to reduce trans fats in the Canadian food supply to the lowest possible level," the department said in a release.
Trans fats to be added to prohibited list
Health Canada aims to add the oils to its "List of Contaminants and Other Adulterating Substances in Foods." That list now includes items such as petroleum jelly, which manufacturers are prohibited from using in food.
A total ban on artificial trans fats has been elusive in Canada.
In the 1990s, as evidence about the ill effects of partially hydrogenated oils emerged, Canadians were among the biggest consumers of trans fats in the world.
A ban on the substance was first proposed by the federal NDP in 2004. The previous Liberal government promised action. Then the Conservative government gave industry a two-year deadline to comply with voluntary limits, a deadline that came and went.
Interested parties have until June 21 to respond to the proposed ban.
Aim to virtually eliminate trans fats from foods
Health Canada said the public health goal is to slash the intake of trans fats by the majority of Canadians by virtually eliminating it from foods.
The ban will also prevent the food industry from reintroducing PHOs into foods sold in Canada, to prevent foods manufactured elsewhere with PHOs from being imported.
Canadian researchers estimate a ban could prevent 12,000 heart attacks in Canada over 20 years
FDA officials say Americans still eat about a gram of trans fat every day, and phasing it out could prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths each year.
Once the regulation is finalized, Health Canada said the prohibition would come into effect one year later. During that year, manufacturers would need to reformulate their products.