Health experts are meeting this month to decide whether manufacturers will be forced to list levels of the trans fatty acids on the packaging of all products sold in New Zealand and Australia.

Trans fats are common in pastries, biscuits and fried foods. They are popular in commercially-baked goods because they are cheap, make food crispy and can extend a product’s shelflife.

But nutritionists consider them the most dangerous type of fat in our food because they can raise the level of “bad” cholesterol and reduce “good” cholesterol – increasing the risk of heart disease, type two diabetes and stroke. They have also been linked to infertility in women.

The review is being carried out by an all-Australian panel of experts appointed by the Australia and New Zealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council. They are taking submissions ahead of issuing a final report in December.

Food experts in New Zealand are divided on whether labelling should be compulsory. Professor Murray Skeaff, head of Otago University’s human nutrition department, said food manufacturers should not be excused from labelling the trans fat content. “I think trans fat is the sort of fat we should be avoiding. It’s [currently] impossible for the consumer to control what sorts of fats they’re eating.”

However, Dave Monro, from the Heart Foundation, said intake of trans fats in New Zealand was “very low” and getting lower. “The real risk is from saturated fat found in animal products and other rich, fatty meats, milk and milk products.”

Labelling is already required for saturated fat, the main cause of high blood cholesterol in this country.

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