In­dus­try hopes for ex­emp­tions in trans fat phase out


Short­en­ing, pie crusts, brown­ies and mi­crowave pop­corn could be par­tially ex­empt from a gov­ern­ment phase out of ar­ti­fi­cial trans fats — if the food in­dus­try gets its way.

The U.S. Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion (FDA) an­nounced in June that it is re­quir­ing food com­pa­nies to largely rid their foods of the artery-clog­ging fats over the next three years, call­ing them a threat to public health. But food com­pa­nies can still pe­ti­tion to use them spar­ingly.

The Gro­cery Man­u­fac­tur­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, the lead­ing in­dus­try group for the food in­dus­try, said Wed­nes­day that it is pe­ti­tion­ing the FDA to con­tinue the use of ar­ti­fi­cial trans fats in hun­dreds of foods, from tiny amounts in break­fast ce­re­als to larger amounts in short­en­ing and pie crusts.

The food in­dus­try ar­gues that the lev­els would not in­crease heart dis­ease risk any more than nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring trans fats from meat and dairy prod­ucts.

Food com­pa­nies “have al­ready vol­un­tar­ily low­ered the amount of trans fat added to food prod­ucts by more than 86 per­cent and will con­tinue low­er­ing (par­tially hy­dro­genated oil) use to lev­els sim­i­lar to nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring trans fat found in the diet,” said Leon Bruner of the Gro­cery Man­u­fac­tur­ers As­so­ci­a­tion.

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. 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.

Many of the amounts re­quested in the group’s pe­ti­tion would be less than a gram of trans fat per serv­ing — a move that public health groups see as pos­i­tive.

“Their pro­posed lim­its would get rid of al­most all of the very high trans fat lev­els, and that’s very good,” said Michael Jacobson of the Cen­ter for Science in the Public In­ter­est.

Jacobson said the amounts pe­ti­tioned by the in­dus­try are still too high, how­ever, since even low lev­els can be a public health risk.

For short­en­ing, for ex­am­ple, the in­dus­try is ask­ing for 3 grams of trans fat per 100 grams of short­en­ing. When trans­lated into a typ­i­cal serv­ing size, that’s less than half a gram per serv­ing. The in­dus­try group is ask­ing for a sim­i­lar amount for mi­crowave pop­corn, one of the worst trans fat of­fend­ers.

To phase the fats out, the FDA made a pre­lim­i­nary de­ter­mi­na­tion in 2013 that par­tially hy­dro­genated oils 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 gave food com­pa­nies un­til June 2018 to phase them out.

The FDA had no im­me­di­ate com­ment on the pe­ti­tion.

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