- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 9, 2003

New federal government regulations will require food makers to tell consumers how much artery-clogging trans fat is in their french fries, doughnuts and snack foods.

The Food and Drug Administration yesterday introduced rules mandating that most food and dietary-supplement producers list the amount of trans fatty acid, or trans fat, under the saturated-fat entry on food-nutrition labels. The agency has been trying for the past decade to establish a trans fat labeling rule.

The deadline is Jan. 1, 2006, but many manufacturers already are preparing products carrying labels that disclose the trans fat content.

“This label change means that trans fat can no longer lurk, hidden, in our food choices,” FDA Commissioner Mark McClellan said. “Americans will now be armed with better information to reduce their intake of saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol — which could significantly lower the risk of heart disease, the leading cause of death in America today.”

Trans fat is found in hydrogenated foods, which includes shortening, some margarine, crackers, cookies, candies, snack foods, fried foods, baked goods, salad dressing and other processed foods.

Scientific studies have shown that high levels of trans fat, like cholesterol and saturated fat, can increase the risk of coronary heart disease, which kills more than 500,000 people each year, the Department of Health and Human Services said.

“We are empowering Americans to make healthier choices about the foods they eat,” Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said in a press statement.

The FDA estimates that the change in regulations will save 2,000 to 5,600 lives a year and about $900 million to $1.8 billion each year in consumer medical costs.

Colleen Zammer, a food scientist with TIAX LLC, a Cambridge, Mass., technology and product development company, said consumers may see some slight price increases in their favorite fatty foods as companies spend millions of dollars to comply with the regulations.

In a 2001 study, the FDA reported that it would cost food companies $440 million to test and develop trans fat information for one product, Ms. Zammer noted.

Most food manufacturers probably will absorb the costs to keep prices low and competitive, while others may reduce serving sizes to compensate the costs, she said.

“But this labeling requirement is something most food companies have seen coming for the last decade, and I’m surprised it has taken this long for it to be implemented,” Ms. Zammer added.

Many companies have started offering trans fat-free foods to beat the label requirements and fend off obesity litigation, which has targeted fast-food chains and even schools.

Unilever, a British food manufacturer, said yesterday that it plans to eliminate trans fat from its soft margarine spread, “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter,” by early next year.

In May, California lawyer Stephen Joseph sued food giant Kraft Foods Inc. for not disclosing trans fat content in its Oreo cookies. Mr. Joseph dropped the suit several days later after the issue received national media attention.

Kraft, an Altria Group Inc. subsidiary, recently announced plans to market a trans fat-free Oreo and reduce single-serving portion sizes of such snacks as Chips Ahoy and Nutter Butter.

Last fall, Frito-Lay, a division of PepsiCo Inc., began eliminating trans fat from its Doritos, Tostitos and Cheetos snacks and introduced reduced-fat potato chips.

“We expect to see many products with redesigned Nutrition Facts labels come onto the market well before the deadline,” said Rhona Applebaum in a press release. She is the executive vice president and chief science officer of the National Food Processors Association, a Washington trade group.

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