It appears the shelf life of trans fats soon will have an expiration date.
The Obama administration’s Food and Drug Administration announced Thursday a finding that trans fats are not “generally recognized as safe” and opened a 60-day comment period widely expected to result in an effective national ban on artificial trans fats in popular processed foods, such as frozen pizza, doughnuts and microwave popcorn.
Though some complained of coercive government “nanny-state” regulation, reaction included strong support or quiet resignation. Many food manufacturers and fast food chains already have moved to reduce or replace trans fats in products.
“This is a big concern to consumers … I think it’ll have a huge impact,” said Julie Greenstein, deputy director of health promotions at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
When the hydrogenation process was first discovered — around the turn of the 20th century — the use of trans fats to provide flavor to food was seen as harmless. As knowledge of trans fats’ negative effects grew over the years, so did outcries to reduce its usage.
Research has found that trans fats drastically increase the chance of developing coronary artery disease.
“There is nothing to gain nutritionally from using trans fats,” said Dharma Kodali, co-author of the book “Trans Fats Alternative” and agricultural engineering professor at the University of Minnesota. “There’s no positive.”
“While 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,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg in an agency statement. “The FDA’s action today is an important step toward protecting more Americans from the potential dangers of trans fat. Further reduction in the amount of trans fat in the American diet could prevent an additional 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths from heart disease each year — a critical step in the protection of Americans’ health.”
In 2006, the FDA required companies to include the trans fat amount in the nutrition fact list on the product.
The elimination of these fats, however, is not expected to change the consumer’s taste experience.
“Some of [consumers] favorite food products can be found without these trans fats,” Ms. Greenstein.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest would prefer that the FDA give food companies a short time period to eliminate trans fats.
“Six months or a year should be more than enough time, especially considering that companies have had a decade to figure out what to do,” Michael Jacobson, the organization’s executive director, told The Associated Press.
Though most recognize the dangers of trans fats, some remain skeptical of the extent to which government should regulate it.
“The restaurant industry is committed to taking a proactive role in addressing today’s food and healthy living challenges as evidenced by the tremendous strides the industry has voluntarily taken to reduce or eliminate artificial trans fats from menu items,” said Joan McGlockton, vice president of Industry Affairs and Food Policy for the National Restaurant Association. “We plan to discuss the impact of this proposal on the industry and submit comments, and we will continue to work with our members and the manufacturing supply chain to address any new federal standards that may arise out of this process.”