US gov’t tells food in­dus­try to phase out ar­ti­fi­cial trans fats


The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is or­der­ing food com­pa­nies to phase out the use of heart-clog­ging trans fats over the next three years, call­ing them a threat to public health.

The move Tues­day will re­move ar­ti­fi­cial trans fats from the food sup­ply al­most en­tirely. Con­sumers aren’t likely to no­tice much of a dif­fer­ence in their fa­vorite foods, but the ad­min­is­tra­tion says the move will re­duce coro­nary heart dis­ease and pre­vent thou­sands of fa­tal heart at­tacks ev­ery year.

Sci­en­tists say there are no health ben­e­fits to the fats, which are used in pro­cess­ing food and in restau­rants, usu­ally to im­prove tex­ture, shelf life or fla­vor. They can raise lev­els of “bad” choles­terol and lower “good” choles­terol, in­creas­ing the risk of heart dis­ease, the lead­ing cause of death in the United States.

The fats are cre­ated when hy­dro­gen is added to veg­etable oil to make it more solid, which is why they are of­ten called par­tially hy­dro­genated oils. Once a sta­ple of the Amer­i­can diet — think short­en­ing and mi­crowave pop­corn — most ar­ti­fi­cial trans fats are al­ready gone. The FDA says that be­tween 2003 and 2012, con­sumer trans fat con­sump­tion de­creased an es­ti­mated 78 per­cent.

But some foods still have them, and the FDA says those trans fats re­main­ing in the food sup­ply are a threat to public health. Some of the foods that com­monly con­tain trans fats are pie crusts, bis­cuits, mi­crowave pop­corn, cof­fee cream­ers, frozen pizza, re­frig­er­ated dough, veg­etable short­en­ings and stick mar­garines.

‘Sin­gle most im­por­tant thing

the FDA has ever done’

To phase the fats out, the FDA made a pre­lim­i­nary de­ter­mi­na­tion in 2013 that trans fats no longer fall in the agency’s “gen­er­ally rec­og­nized as safe” cat­e­gory, which cov­ers thou­sands of ad­di­tives that man­u­fac­tur­ers can add to foods with­out FDA re­view. The agency made that de­ci­sion fi­nal Tues­day, giv­ing food com­pa­nies the three years to phase them out.

Now that trans fats will be off the list of safe ad­di­tives, any com­pany that wants to use them will have to pe­ti­tion the agency to al­low it. Still, food com­pa­nies are hop­ing for some ex­cep­tions. The Gro­cery Man­u­fac­tur­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, the main trade group for the food in­dus­try, is work­ing with com­pa­nies on a pe­ti­tion that would for­mally ask the FDA if it can say there is a “rea­son­able cer­tainty of no harm” from some spe­cific uses of the fats.

The group said in a state­ment af­ter the an­nounce­ment that it is pleased with the FDA’s three­year com­pli­ance pe­riod.

Trans fats are widely con­sid­ered the worst kind for your heart, even worse than sat­u­rated fats, which also can con­trib­ute to heart dis­ease. Over the years, they have been used in foods like frost­ings, which need solid fat for tex­ture, or in those that need a longer shelf life or fla­vor en­hance­ment. They also have been used by restau­rants for fry­ing. Many larger chains have stopped us­ing them, but smaller restau­rants may still get food con­tain­ing trans fats from sup­pli­ers.

The ad­vo­cacy group Cen­ter for Science in the Public In­ter­est first pe­ti­tioned FDA to ban trans fats 11 years ago. The group’s di­rec­tor, Michael Jacobson, says that get­ting rid of the trans fats that are still out there could save tens of thou­sands of lives on top of those that have al­ready been saved from re­duc­tions.

The de­ci­sion to phase them out “is prob­a­bly the sin­gle most im­por­tant thing the FDA has ever done for the health­ful­ness of the food sup­ply,” Jacobson said.

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