US Food and Drug Administration has proposed banning
artificial trans fats in processed food ranging from cookies to frozen
pizza, citing the risk of heart disease.
oils, the primary dietary source of the fats, have been shown to raise
"bad" cholesterol. Reducing the use of trans fats could prevent 20 000
heart attacks and 7 000 deaths from heart disease a year, the FDA said.
consumption of potentially harmful artificial trans fat has declined
over the last two decades in the United States, current intake remains a
significant public health concern," FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg
Public health advocates welcomed the move.
trans fat is a uniquely powerful promoter of heart disease, and
today's announcement will hasten its eventual disappearance from the
food supply," Michael Jacobson, executive director of the non-profit
Center for Science in the Public Interest said.
Banning trans fats becoming more common
proposal is not the first public effort to ban trans fats. New York
City banned the use of trans fats in restaurants, including their use
for deep-frying foods, and many restaurants and fast food chains,
including McDonald's Corp., have eliminated their use.
European countries have also taken steps. Denmark, Switzerland and
Iceland regulate the sale of many foods containing trans fats.
that still contain trans fats include, among others, crackers,
refrigerated dough, coffee creamers and ready-to-use frosting. Some
products will be harder to reformulate than others, FDA officials said.
know that technically this is not an insoluble problem," Hamburg told
reporters on a conference call, adding that the use of trans fats has
declined dramatically since 2006, when the agency required that trans
fat levels be disclosed on package labels.
According to the
Grocery Manufacturers Association, food manufacturers have voluntarily
lowered the amounts of trans fats in their food products by more than
73%. The FDA said the average daily intake of trans fats by
Americans fell from 4.6 grams a day in 2003 to 1 gram in 2012.
is a chemical process that converts liquid vegetable oils into solid
or semi-solid fats. Partially hydrogenated oils extend the shelf life
of foods, and certain types of popcorn, fish sticks, pies, donuts and
pizza depend on trans fats for their taste and texture.
with alternative recipes for products that contain trans fats will
largely be a matter of trial and error, industry experts say.
Sunflower, canola or palm kernel oil might work in some cases but some
products might have to be dropped.
"If this rule becomes final the
impact to companies will include the cost of finding an alternative to
trans fats," said Justin Prochnow, a lawyer with Greenberg Traurig LLP
who advises food companies on FDA-related matters.
What the proposal entails
proposal is subject to a 60-day public comment period in which food
companies are expected to outline how long they expect it to take them
to reformulate products.
If the proposal becomes final, partially
hydrogenated oils would be considered food additives and would not be
allowed in food unless authorized by health regulators. The ruling
would not affect trans fat that occur naturally in small amounts in
certain meat and dairy products.
Companies wishing to include
trans fats in their products would have to meet the safety standards
applied to food additives and prove with reasonable certainty that they
do not cause harm.
has been more than half a century since US regulations governing
food additives were last revised. In that time, the number of chemicals
in the food supply has risen from fewer than 2,000 to an estimated
10,000, many of which are never reviewed by the FDA because companies
and their advisers have declared them to be safe.
regulations created more than 50 years ago to help companies avoid
lengthy delays in getting food additives approved, the FDA created a
list of products considered "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS).
can either petition to get their ingredients affirmed safe by the FDA,
or they can declare them safe based on their own research or that of
hired consultants. The FDA has the option to challenge such
declarations but has rarely done so.
The FDA's Hamburg said in an
interview on Thursday that while the GRAS system provides the current
legal framework for regulating food additives, the system bears
re-examining to see if it is adequate to ensure the safety of the food
"We do need to be thinking about what is needed to update laws and processes," she said.
agency is already under pressure to ban the use of caffeine in energy
drinks. Caffeine was long ago declared to be a GRAS product in
cola-type drinks. Yet the agency has not challenged companies to prove
the safety of caffeine in other products or other beverages.
is one we are looking at very seriously," Hamburg said, adding that
the agency hosted a major meeting of experts over the summer under the
auspices of the independent Institute of Medicine. "It's an ongoing
process but one in which we are deeply engaged."
In the meantime, healthcare professionals welcomed the FDA's step towards banning trans-fats in foods.