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FDA Decision on Phasing Out Trans Fats from Food Supply Expected This Month

Jun 12, 2015

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), most Americans still eat about a gram of trans fat every day. Phasing out these fats could prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths each year.

Through voluntary action by food producers, there are significantly fewer trans fats in the nation's food than there were a decade ago. The FDA is considering a proposal that would get rid of them almost entirely, The Associated Press (AP) reports. The agency has said it will announce its decision by June 15.

Scientists say there are no health benefits to trans fats, which are used to improve texture, flavor, or shelf life or foods. Trans fats can raise levels of "bad" cholesterol and lower "good" cholesterol, increasing the risk of heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in the United States. Health experts consider trans fats the worst kind of fats for heart health. Trans fats are created when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil to make it more solid; they are often called partially hydrogenated oils.

In 2013, the FDA made a preliminary determination that trans fats no longer fall in the category "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS). Manufacturers can use GRAS additives in their products without FDA review. But if trans fats lose GRAS designation, any company that wants to use them would have to petition the agency for permission and not many uses are likely to be approved, according to the AP.

Trans fats are found in a wide variety of foods American consume on a daily basis: crackers, cookies, cakes, and other baked goods; snack foods (microwave popcorn), and frozen pizza, refrigerated dough, coffee creamers, and ready-to-use frostings. Vegetable shortening and stick margarine contain trans fats.

FDA officials say some trans fats would be phased out more slowly, depending on the difficulty of finding a substitute for a particular use. The FDA is not targeting trans fats that occur naturally in some meat and dairy products. Those would be too difficult to remove, the agency explains, and the small amounts are not considered a major public health threat on their own.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association, the main trade group for the food industry, says food manufacturers have voluntarily reduced trans fats in their products by 86 percent since 2003, replacing them with other types of oils. In 2006, the FDA required the labeling of trans fats on food packages and some localities, like New York City, have already banned trans fats, the AP reports.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, an advocacy group, petitioned the FDA to for a trans fat ban 11 years ago. Michael Jacobson, the organization’s director, praised the food industry voluntary efforts in reducing the fats but considers federal action necessary. Phasing out trans fats would be "the single most important thing the FDA has done about the healthfulness of our food supply," Jacobson said, the AP reports.

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