The U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave the food industry a three-year deadline to get rid of artificial trans fats from their prepackaged products. The move marks a definite victory for consumer rights advocates who currently hope that thousands of deaths would be prevented each year.
The agency have been preparing for the move since 2013. Over the course of the last couple of years federal health officials had to answer to more than 6,000 public comments on the issue. So, this Tuesday’s announcement marks a point of no return for U.S. food industry.
Food producers have to remove for good all traces of industrial trans fats from Americans’ menus by 2018. Due to consumer groups, trans fats have been significantly trimmed from public menus, but several food items still contain them – margarine, microwave popcorn, cookies, pies, pizzas, French fries, fried foods and several others.
Trans fats are used by the industry to provide more consistency to prepackaged foods. According to a study conducted by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and published in May, about 27 percent of supermarket products contained the industrial oils. EWG researchers also found that only two percent of those products specified on their labels that they contained trans fats.
Doctors recommend their patients to stay away from trans fats because they are the major cause behind the heart disease epidemic in the U.S. The FDA currently hopes that removing them from all products should prevent about 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 cardio-vascular-related deaths every year.
Food producers said that they were content with the three-year deadline, but they urged the agency to allow them to keep small traces of trans fats in a some of their products.
“This is the final nail in the coffin of trans fats. In terms of lives saved, I think eliminating trans fats is the single most important change to our food supply,”
quipped Michael F. Jacobson, head of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, one of the groups that campaigned for the ban.
Though trans fats naturally occur in some diary products and meat, the vast majority of trans fats are artificially made by the food industry by adding hydrogen molecules to vegetable oils through a process called hydrogenation.
Hydrogenation allows oil to become solid at room temperature thus granting more consistency to prepackaged products. Partially hydrogenated oils also extend the products shelf life because they are hard to spoil. Some restaurants use these oils in their deep fryers, as well, because they do not degrade that easily.
But according to the FDA’s decision, partially hydrogenated oils will be no longer “generally recognized as safe.” Additionally, if a company wants to use them in their products it must prove that they are safe to eat, which can be a devilish task since most studies caution against the oils.
Image Source: Anthrophysis (blog)