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.