The US Food and Drug Administration finalized rules yesterday to rid foods sold in the US of artery-clogging trans fats and, it is estimated, reduce the number of heart attacks by about 20,000 and the number of deaths from heart disease by about 7,000 each year, the New York Times reports.
The decision, announced here in the federal register, is considered final and will effectively remove industrial trans fats from the American diet by June 2018. But although the rule is final, some food experts admitted that it will be difficult to eliminate trans fats completely.
Despite the difficulty, the Center for Science in the Public Interest has been on a campaign since 1993 to make the public aware of the danger of artificial trans fats in the US food supply:
- Starbucks does away with trans fats in 2007
- In 2011 Walmart requires suppliers to phase out artificial trans fat by 2015
- CDC notes a 58-percent decline in trans fat in blood from 2000 to 2009
“This is the final nail in the coffin of trans fats,” the Times quoted Michael F Jacobson, executive director of the center, as saying. “In terms of lives saved, I think eliminating trans fats is the single most important change to our food supply.”
The battle against trans fats went through Illinois in that Fred A Kummerow, professor emeritus of food science and human nutrition at the University of Illinois, filed a citizen petition with the FDA in 2004 to remove partially hydrogenated oils from the list of foods classified as “generally recognized as safe,” or GRAS. It may have taken nine years to accomplish that, but the FDA made a preliminary ruling to remove partially hydrogenated oils from the GRAS list in 2013, and then yesterday’s decision made it final.
The food industry is glad the FDA is allowing three years for it to make the switch away from artificial trans fats. Many food makers, however, say it will be difficult to implement the change and that “nearly zero” trans fat content in food is essentially as safe as “zero” trans fat content.
In a statement, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents hundreds of food manufacturers, said it plans to file its own food additive petition to the FDA in the coming days. “It will show that the presence of trans fat from the proposed low level uses of partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) is as safe as the naturally occurring trans fat present in the normal diet,” said the GMA statement, according to a report from Agence France-Presse.
Trans fats occur naturally in some dairy, beef, and lamb products, though this ruling will not affect those products. Only artificial trans fats, added to foods like margarine, coffee creamers, frostings, microwave popcorn, and so on, are affected by the ruling.