The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says it will decide by June 15 whether to phase out trans fats from most food products. The agency says the move could prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths each year.
The agency first proposed phasing out artificial trans fats in November 2013 after having made a preliminary determination that the additives no longer fall in the agency’s “generally recognized as safe” category, which covers thousands of additives that food companies can add to their products without the FDA’s approval. Once trans fats have been removed from the food supply, the agency says any manufacturer that wants to use them would have to petition the government to allow it. This would phase trans fats out almost entirely, since not many uses are likely to be permitted, according to Philly.com.
Scientists say trans fats offer no health benefits; the additives raise “bad” cholesterol and lower “good” cholesterol, which can contribute to heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States. Saturated fats also contribute to heart disease, but trans fats are considered to be even more dangerous, Philly.com reported.
Trans fats, more typically known as partially hydrogenated oils, are made by adding hydrogen to vegetable oil to make it more solid. The fats are used to stiffen frostings, and serve as preservatives and flavor enhancers in microwave popcorn, pie crusts, biscuits, coffee creamers, frozen pizza, refrigerated dough, vegetable shortenings and stick margarines, according to Philly.com.
FDA officials are mulling phasing out trans fats faster for some foods than others, it all depends on how easy it is to find substitutes. Health regulators say they will not focus their attention on naturally occurring small amounts of partially hydrogenated oils in some meat and dairy products, as they would be too difficult to remove and are not considered a major public health threat, Philly.com reported.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association and food companies have teamed up to draft a petition asking the FDA to determine if there is a “reasonable certainty of no harm” from some specific uses of trans fats. The group’s spokesman told Philly.com the group won’t specify what the industry plans to ask for, but he said food companies have been encouraged by the agency to submit a petition.
Eleven years ago, the FDA was first petitioned by the advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest to ban partially hydrogenated oils. Michael Jacobson, the group’s director, praised the industry’s efforts so far but said federal action is necessary.
A phase out would be “the single most important thing the FDA has done about the healthfulness of our food supply,” Jacobson told Philly.com.