Many food safety and health advocates say it’s about time, while others accuse the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of playing Big Brother. The announcement sparking a range of reactions is that the FDA has plans to phase out the use of trans fats in food.
Trans fats are a totally synthetic additive to foods that creates a fatty flavor and texture yet have no nutritional value. What’s worse, trans fats have been linked to an elevated risk of heart disease by raising so-called “bad cholesterol” while lowering the beneficial cholesterol, also known as high-density lipoprotein.
New York City in 2006 initiated a ban on the use of trans fats in restaurants and other cities followed its lead.
On food labels, trans fats are often called “partially hydrogenated oils.” They are cheaper than fats from animal or plant sources. Peanut butter and almond butter often contains trans fats to keep the consistency smooth and ready-to-use. Other foods considered the worst offenders for additional trans fats include microwave popcorn, baked goods, frozen pizza, coffee creamers, frosting and margarines.
In announcing the proposed rules, FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg said phasing out the artery-clogging trans fats could prevent 7,000 deaths annually from heart disease and 20,000 heart attacks. Hamburg said trans fats are “not generally recognized as being safe to use in foods.” If ultimately the agency determines trans fats are not safe, they could be classified as a “food additive” rather than “Generally Recognized as Safe” or GRAS designation that they enjoy now.
Health and food safety advocates have long agreed. The Institute of Medicine says trans fats are not safe at any level while the Center for Science in the Public Interest petitioned the FDA in 1994 to put trans fats on food labels. The New York Times reports Denmark virtually eliminated them from all foods a decade ago.
The “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS) designation has been used to allow genetically engineered (GE) foods into commerce, though many feel the GRAS designation should not be used to describe GE foods either.
If reclassified as a food additive, manufacturers would face a much more rigorous and complicated application process with the FDA to demonstrate the food is reasonably safe before the agency would authorize the sale of trans fats. That likely will not happen because of the public health concerns about trans fats.
For the next 60 days manufacturers can enter their protest to the proposed rules and expect the artificial food industry to be among the loudest. Dr. Hamburg says many industries had already begun eliminating trans fats and even McDonald’s has already found a substitute.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found an industry-wide phase-out has been underway for the last decade during which American’s level of trans fatty acid consumption has been reduced by 58 percent.
While many Americans object to being told what to eat, they unknowingly have been marketed to by the processed food industry for decades. As a result, obesity, heart disease, stroke have raised the cost of health care for all Americans.
This move culminates three decades of work by public health advocates, reports the New York Times, and it represents a major push-back to industry objections for the sake of public health.