FDA Eyes Trans Fats Ban, But Manufacturers Want Exemptions

While trans fats have long been denounced by public health experts, they haven't been formally banned by the Food and Drug Administration. That could soon change, but the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which helped drive a reduction in the use of the fats, wants some flexibility.

Update: Since this story was published, the FDA announced it would ban trans fats, with manufacturers expected to comply by 2018. The rule allows food manufacturers to petition the agency in cases where the fats aren’t harmful, according to a Bloomberg Business report. The original version of this story is below.

All’s been quiet on the trans-fat front, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is ready to take on the sleeping dog once and for all.

The agency wants to ban trans fats almost entirely, but the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) still wants the fats allowed on a limited basis.

Unhealthful as ever, artificial trans fats—or partially hydrogenated oils—have been found to contribute to America’s biggest cause of death: heart disease. Nonetheless, they’re still fairly common in many grocery store items, such as frozen pizza, baked goods, and microwave popcorn.

The FDA could make a decision on the issue as soon as this week.

It could be “the single most important thing the FDA has done about the healthfulness of our food supply,” Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) Executive Director Michael Jacobson told the Associated Press.

The Food Manufacturers’ Take

Meanwhile, food manufacturers don’t want to see the artificial trans fats completely banned. Instead, they’d like the FDA to allow the oils to be used as food additives upon federal approval, with the agency accepting petitions for this purpose.

GMA plans to stand by its members in opposing a full ban. The association says the food industry it represents is already on board. Manufacturers have reduced trans fats use by 85 percent, the group claims.

“We share FDA’s goal of reducing trans fatty acids in the diet,” GMA told NPR in a statement.

However, GMA wants to ensure that there’s some level of accepted use and has set up a working group focused on the issue.

“The food additive petition currently in development will help us to achieve this shared objective,” the group added.

Even with the difference of opinion on the issue, professional groups, such as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, have been quick to give the industry credit for taking on the issue.

“I think they’ve seen the handwriting on the wall,” spokeswoman Sonya Angelone told Newsmax . “A lot of large companies have already moved to get rid of trans fats.”

FDA Remains Steadfast

The FDA’s decision could save thousands of lives. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says about 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths could be avoided in the phaseout of artificial trans fats. At the same time, scientists emphasize that there are no health benefits to using or consuming trans fats.

“The time is long overdue to get trans fats out of the food supply,” the CSPI’s Jacobson told the AP about the anticipated move.

But despite the industry’s work on the issue, Jacobson says it’s still not enough.

“And now the FDA needs to nail the coffin shut,” he told Marketplace.

(Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Patrick deHahn

By Patrick deHahn

Patrick deHahn is a contributor to Associations Now. MORE

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