The country's biggest retailers announced today that they will stop adding harmful fats to their own-brand products in a move that could cut heart disease.

Trans-fats, in the form of hydrogenated oils, have been added to bakery and dairy products for years, to extend shelf-life and improve texture.

They are also used by the fast-food industry, although they do also occur naturally in some meat and dairy products.

They have been linked to coronary heart disease, diabetes and obesity, and health authorities around the world have recommended their consumption be slashed.

In Denmark, trans-fats in the form of partially hydrogenated oils were effectively banned four years ago.

Major British retailers Asda, Boots, Co-Op, Iceland, Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury's, Tesco and Waitrose announced they will voluntarily stop adding the fats to their own products.

Some of the retailers have already announced they are moving away from adding trans-fats, but this is the first time all have made the pledge under the banner of the British Retail Consortium.

The decision will be praised today in an early day motion in the House of Commons.

The European Union is encouraging retailers to reduce or stop adding trans fats, but in a contradictory move is also taking action against the Danish authorities for their ban, saying it is a block on free trade with other member states.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) said its biggest members have pledged to bring in the change by the end of the year.

It said that the scale and pace of change was "unmatched by retailers or manufacturers anywhere else in Europe".

Andrew Opie, BRC food policy director, said: "With the commission's laudable objectives on healthy food and free trade in conflict, the UK Government risks being embarrassed by its own legislative impotence.

"But, by acting voluntarily, BRC members are showing that responsible retailers can cut through to achieve major change faster than any legislation.

"This is the latest in a string of healthy food initiatives and shows that BRC members, responding to customer concerns, are willingly delivering a scale and pace of change way beyond anything retailers or manufacturers are doing anywhere else in Europe."