Trans fat ban tests food com­pa­nies and bak­ers in the US

The China Post - - LIFE - BY JOHN BIERS

The Jarosch Bak­ery has been sup­ply­ing good­ies for more than 50 years, win­ning spe­cial renown for its but­ter cream frost­ing and for but­ter cook­ies with an ex­tra ten­der tex­ture.

But those treats and an ar­ray of lip-smack­ing oth­ers face an un­cer­tain fu­ture af­ter U.S. reg­u­la­tors this week an­nounced a ban on par­tially hy­dro­genated oils (PHOs), or trans fats, a key in­gre­di­ent in short­en­ing used for many con­fec­tions.

“It will cer­tainly cost us some money to re­for­mu­late,” said Ken­neth Jarosch, who plans to scour his sup­pli­ers for short­en­ings made with al­ter­na­tive oils be­fore the ban takes ef­fect in 2018.

But Jarosch, whose grand­fa­ther and fa­ther started the busi­ness in 1959, also fears cus­tomers will not like the change.

“It will have an ef­fect on the taste and tex­ture and that’s what we’re all about,” Jarosch told AFP by tele­phone from sub­ur­ban Chicago.

“And that’s what dis­tin­guishes us from Wal­mart and Costco and, if that goes down the drain, we’re go­ing to be in a world of hurt.”

On Tues­day the U.S. Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion, in a longtele­graphed move, an­nounced that PHOs, the main source of in­dus­tri­ally pro­duced trans fat, would be barred from the U.S. food sup­ply start­ing in June 2018, say­ing the shift would save thou­sands of lives.

PHOs are not “gen­er­ally rec­og­nized as safe” due to their role in heart dis­ease, the FDA said.

FDA of­fi­cials say even very small quan­ti­ties of trans fats can add up to dan­ger­ous lev­els and will not per­mit the in­gre­di­ent with­out an ex­emp­tion.

The food in­dus­try likes PHOs, which are made in an in­dus­trial process by adding hy­dro­gen to veg­etable oil.

Trans fats al­low foods to re­main solid at higher tem­per­a­tures, pro­vide tex­ture to ic­ings and other foods and have dis­tinc­tive fla­vors that are de­sir­able in fried foods. They can also in­crease the shelf life of baked goods.

No Sub­sti­tutes

But af­ter ex­ten­sive re­search, the FDA said it was ban­ning a dan­ger­ous in­gre­di­ent which car­ries no health ben­e­fits.

Food man­u­fac­tur­ers were re­quired start­ing in 2006 to in­clude trans fat in­for­ma­tion on nutri­tion la­bels, a move cred­ited with cut­ting U.S. trans fat con­sump­tion by nearly 80 per­cent.

Af­ter the FDA re­leased a pre- lim­i­nary ver­sion of the PHO ban in 2013, they came un­der heavy fire from the pro­cessed food in­dus­try, in­clud­ing the Pop­corn In­sti­tute, the Na­tional Frozen Pizza In­sti­tute and the In­ter­na­tional Chew­ing Gum As­so­ci­a­tion, which called the plan “mis­guided and overly broad.”

Some com­men­ta­tors said the ban would boost use of like­wise un­healthy sub­sti­tutes high in sat­u­rated fats. And crit­ics link the pro­duc­tion of one PHO sub­sti­tute, palm oil, to de­for­esta­tion.

Gen­eral Mills, ConA­gra and oth­ers sought un­suc­cess­fully to per­suade the FDA to im­pose very low caps on PHOs, rather than a to­tal ban.

Gen­eral Mills cited “sig­nif­i­cant tech­ni­cal chal­lenges” in re­plac­ing PHOs for cer­tain items “for which there are few or no suit­able al­ter­na­tives,” such as tai­lored short­en­ings used in pas­tries, cakes and ic­ings.

ConA­gra Foods com­plained that PHOs were an in­gre­di­ent “that has been safely and com­monly used in food for over 50 years.”

‘Let cus­tomer de­cide’

How­ever, both com­pa­nies ac­cepted this week’s FDA an­nounce­ment.

“We have al­ready re­moved trans fats from a great many prod- ucts,” said a Gen­eral Mills spokes­woman. “While the work re­mains chal­leng­ing, we are striv­ing to re­move trans fats from all of our prod­ucts across the board.”

“We pride our­selves on mak­ing high-qual­ity, whole­some foods,” a ConA­gra spokes­woman said. “We be­gan our tran­si­tion away from par­tially hy­dro­genated oils years ago and we will con­tinue to work dili­gently to com­ply with FDA’s fi­nal de­ter­mi­na­tion.”

Some food­mak­ers are hold­ing out hope for FDA ex­emp­tions.

Roger Lowe, a spokesman for the Gro­cery Man­u­fac­tur­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, said he plans “a vo­lu­mi­nous” ap­pli­ca­tion to seek ap­proval for use of trans fats as a food ad­di­tive.

At Jarosch Bak­ery, an ex­emp­tion could per­mit the use of cup­cake sprin­kles that have trans fats. But Jarosch is not hold­ing out hope for an ex­emp­tion for the far more im­por­tant short­en­ing.

“What kind of ticks me off about the whole leg­is­la­tion is I think it should be up to the cus­tomer to de­cide,” Jarosch said.

“I would have been in fa­vor of us hav­ing to post stick­ers that say ‘eat­ing this could be haz­ardous to your health’ and let­ting the cus­tomers de­cide,” he said.

“Cig­a­rettes are still le­gal and yet trans fats or short­en­ings are illegal. Go fig­ure.”

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