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A problem of fatty food shows Brexit may genuinely be bad for our health

TRANSFATS. They may not sound sexy, and indeed they are not. But neither is heart disease and they have a large part to play in causing it. Every two per cent of energy consumed from trans-fatty acids increases your risk of a heart attack or death due to heart disease by a whopping 25 per cent, and some of our food is saturated with them.

The National

First published in The National, 8 November 2016.

Transfats are added to foods as a cheap way of extending shelf life. Scotland has persistently had the UK’s highest rates of mortality from cardiovascular disease ... so what are we going to do about it?

The British Medical Association says that reducing the level of transfats consumption would be one of the single most effective ways of improving health standards across Europe, in the same magnitude as banning smoking in public places. Co-operating across borders is just one of the areas at which the EU excels, and last week MEPs voted in favour of a Europe-wide limit on industrially produced transfats. 

You’ll be forgiven for having missed this good news in the mainstream press, but it is a great example of how the EU, acting without much fanfare, can make a real difference to the lives of 500 million people.

To be fair, many international food companies have already been supportive of a limit of two grams per 100 grams, as per World Health Organisation recommendations. That’s great, we can work together there. But you can’t always rely on industries to put customer health over profit margins. 

Just look at the Scotch Whisky Association’s fight against minimum unit pricing. The Scottish Government passed legislation back in April 2012 setting a minimum unit price for alcohol at 50p per unit, but the implementation has been delayed this long because a group of global alcohol producers – represented by the SWA – claims the measure is against European trade laws. 

Not according to the Court of Session, it has to be said, and I hope that this sensible, proportionate policy will be implemented as soon as possible to start tackling Scotland’s problem drinking, providing an example for the rest of the EU to follow. 

We live in the age of globalisation. If we’re serious about tackling transfats and their impact on the health of our citizens, it is more effective to address this across the entirety of the European Single Market. As a member of the European Union, the framework is there. All we have to do is be bold and make it work to our advantage. 

But after the European referendum, it’s all up in the air; and the benefits we’ve enjoyed for decades are at real risk. Lets take the transfats example. Will a post-Brexit UK choose to mirror the EU rules, or ignore them to the betterment of industry? It is a genuinely open question, but with the real, tangible benefits of being part of the EU set against a hypothetical, I know which I prefer. In 1967, Winnie Ewing won Hamilton for the SNP in a general election and declared "Stop the world, Scotland wants to get on." We cannot afford to lose everything we’ve worked so hard to achieve as part of the EU and so, half a century later, it’s more important than ever before that we have our European allies onside. Stop the world, Scotland wants stay on.