The House of Representatives Committee on Health held a virtual committee hearing on the Trans Fat Free Philippines House Bills on Wednesday, December 9, 2020. The Trans Fat Free Philippines House Bills consist of HB 7200 authored by Rep. Alfred Delos Santos, HB 7202 by Rep. Ronnie Ong, HB 7934 by Rep. Angelina “Helen” Tan, and HB 8093 by Rep. Luis Raymund “LRay” Villafuerte. Rep. Joy Myra Tambunting also filed her own version of the Trans Fat Free Philippines Bill numbered HB 8128 last December 2, 2020. All bills filled are entitled “An Act to Protect Filipinos from the Harmful Effects of Trans Fatty Acids.”
High trans fat intake has been found to cause cholesterol build-up in arteries and increase coronary heart disease (CHD) morbidity and mortality risk by 21% and 28%, respectively. CHD consistently ranks as the leading cause of death worldwide with a 34% mortality risk and is a known comorbidity of COVID -19.
To reduce the risk of CHD and other non-communicable diseases (NCD), the WHO has set a goal of a trans fat free world by 2023 and urges countries to adopt measures to eliminate trans fats from their food supply. According to the WHO REPLACE Action Package, legislation and regulatory action is the most cost-effective and consistent way to remove trans fat from food supply chains thereby protecting people from health harms and promoting a nutritional diet
Responding to the WHO’s call, Reps. Delos Santos, Ong, Tan, Villafuerte, and Tambunting filed the Trans Fat Free Philippines bills with the goal of eliminating industrially-produced trans fatty acids (iTFAs) from the Philippine food supply by regulating the manufacture, importation, sale, and use of partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) and limiting iTFA content in food. The bills also adopt recommendations of the WHO that will enable the transition to healthier alternative oils by providing assistance to food manufacturers in reformulating their products and giving training and incentives to micro, small, and medium enterprises.
For the bills’ sponsors, the filing of the Trans Fat Free Philippines Bills is in line with the policy of the Universal Health Care Act to provide cost-effective and preventive health services to the public.
“This particular piece of legislation is significantly urgent, during this time of COVID-19 pandemic, as patients with comorbidities such as coronary heart diseases (CHD) have a higher risk of serious illness and death. It needs stressing that many COVID-19 patients in the country have comorbidities. Now more than ever, the need for preventive healthcare and healthy lifestyle promotion must be realized in line with the vision of Universal Health Care,” Rep. Helen Tan stated.
To emphasize the urgency of the bills’ passage, Rep. Ronnie Ong cited that “as of June 8, 2020, 49% of COVID-19 deaths in the Philippines have comorbidities such as CVDs that are linked to TFA, which, unfortunately, is part of our food intake.” Rep. Ong also appeals to stakeholders “to find the right balance in timing and finally making the Philippines trans fat free.”
During the hearing, the Health Committee discussed potential alternative oils that food manufacturers and producers may use in reformulating their food products. The Department of Agriculture (DA) committed to explore and evaluate locally available and high-value agricultural products as substitutes that can be mass-produced and distributed to production systems.
The bills received overwhelming support from national agencies led by the Department of Health (DOH), the National Nutrition Council (NNC), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The Department of Science and Technology Food Nutrition Research Institute (DOST-FNRI), Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Department of Finance (DOF), and Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) recognized the significance of these legislations and expressed their full support. Public interest law organization, ImagineLaw and nutrition experts and professional societies such as the Philippine Association of Nutrition (PAN), Philippine Society of Nutritionist-Dietitians (PSND), and the Nutritionist-Dietitians Association of the Philippines (NDAP) also supported the bills and reiterated their significance to human health.
Rep. Lourdes “Marilou” Arroyo-Lesaca also requested to co-author HB 7934 filed by Rep. Tan. The Health Committee approved the bills in principle, subject to consolidation and revision based on comments from the government agencies and resource persons. The bills will be referred for review by other committees, as appropriate, or referred to the plenary on the second reading. The bills’ counterpart bill, Senate Bill No. 1916, filed by Senate Nancy S. Binay is currently pending in the joint Senate committees on Trade and Health.