Hong Kong should follow the lead of the United States and consider banning artery-clogging artificial trans-fats in food, local experts say.
But outlawing the ingredient, widely used in the city's bakeries and restaurants to improve texture and prolong the shelf life of food, would push up costs.
Food manufacturers in the city said items such as bakery products, crackers and dairy products should be exempted from any ban.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said in November that hydrogenated oils (PHOs) - the prime source of artificial trans-fats in processed foods - were not "generally recognised as safe".
It said a ban on trans-fats in food could prevent an additional 7,000 deaths from heart disease and up to 20,000 heart attacks a year in the US alone. A 60-day public consultation there on whether to ban the use of PHOs as food additives ended on March 8 and a decision on whether to ban them is due soon.
The Centre for Food Safety in Hong Kong said it had issued trade guidelines to reduce trans- fats in food and was closely monitoring developments in the US, as well as other international progress on controlling trans-fats. Health experts in Australia have also called for a ban.
Winnie Wong Wan-chi, a lecturer in nutrition science and diet at the Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education, said: "Many studies have pointed out that trans-fats are linked to an increased risk of heart and [other] coronary diseases."
The chairwoman of the Hong Kong Dietitians Association, Sylvia Lam, endorsed a ban last year but said such initiatives were "not a priority of this government".
Leo Yuen Chun-on, founding chairman of the Hong Kong Food Science and Technology Association, said Hong Kong should not follow the US. "Since the East and the West have very different eating habits and cooking methods, the intake of trans-fats among Chinese people is generally lower," he said.
Still, he said stricter standards should be applied to infant formula.
An adult with a daily energy intake of 2,000 calories should limit their intake of trans-fats to less than 2.2 grams a day, according to local and international standards.