Last week saw a major win for public health in Turkey: the country took an important step toward eliminating toxic chemical trans fat from its food supply.
On Thursday, May 7, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MoAF) published regulations to limit the content of trans fat to 2g per 100g in food intended for the final consumer and retail. The policy, which takes effect January 1, 2021, is in line with the EU’s, although it falls short of international best practices covering all foods in all settings.
Trans fat consumption increases the risk of heart disease – the leading cause of death in Turkey – as well as dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive diseases. Trans fat consumption is estimated to have killed more than 500,000 people globally per year, including 2,910 in Turkey.
Efforts to regulate trans fat in food gathered steam in 2018, after the World Health Organization called for the elimination of artificial trans fat from the global food supply by 2023. In Turkey, civil society proved instrumental in elevating and framing trans fat elimination as a public health priority, building and demonstrating public demand for policy change, and helping to navigate legal and bureaucratic roadblocks to policy passage.
Civil society actions were led by Saglik Enstitusu Dernegi (Health Institute Association) and the Turkish Society of Cardiology with support from the Global Health Advocacy Incubator (GHAI).
GHAI helped to map policy processes, analyze regulatory proposals, develop effective advocacy strategies, and find creative ways to assess and improve policy and media work.
Throughout their campaign, civil society partners generated hundreds of media stories on trans fat health harms and solutions, even during repeat municipal elections in Istanbul that consumed significant media attention in June 2019. They gathered and distributed testimonials from prominent chefs, health and nutrition experts, as well as industry representatives in favor of policy change.
Civil society representatives participated in government workshops to develop regulatory language, and met with political decision-makers regularly to address their concerns. In the process, they helped to generate support for trans fat elimination from MoAF’s Food Codex Commission, a semi-official advisory group, as well as the Presidential Health and Food Policy Council, which submitted a report to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on the matter in December 2019.
Earlier this year, Saglik Enstitusu Dernegi and GHAI provided feedback on draft regulations released by MoAF. The spread of COVID-19 delayed final approval until last week.
As we celebrate this public health win, we encourage public health advocates in Turkey to redouble efforts to expand trans fat restrictions to all food products.