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FDA moves to ban trans fats

The Food and Drug Administration today declared that trans fats are not safe in any quantities, and began a 60-day comment period on a proposal to phase out their use completely in U.S. foods.

FDA “has made a preliminary determination that partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), the primary dietary source of artificial trans fat in processed foods, are not ‘generally recognized as safe’ (GRAS) for use in food,” the agency said.

“A final decision would mean that the use of these oils in the food supply would be phased out over a number of years. Removal of PHOs from the food supply could prevent up to 7,000 deaths from heart disease each year.”

That trans fats lead to heart disease has been known for years, and many companies have found alternatives to them. But they are still found in microwave popcorn, certain desserts, frozen pizzas, margarines and coffee creamers, The New York Times noted today.

To avoid the ban, food companies would have to prove that trans fats are safe to eat, which would be a “challenge,” considering the scientific literature, Michael Taylor, the FDA food commissioner, told the Times.

In response to the FDA notice, American Soybean Association President Danny Murphy, a Mississippi farmer, noted in a statement that the process of partially-hydrogenating vegetable oils makes them more stable for certain baking, frying, or food applications.

“The vast majority of soybean oil consumed is not partially hydrogenated and is free of trans fats, so consumers can be assured of the continued safety and healthfulness of soybean oil and the many food products that contain it,” he said.

But he added, “Given that the food and vegetable oil industries have already moved to greatly reduce trans fats in food products and in Americans’ diets, we do have questions about the need for FDA to take this proposed action.”

“Further, we have concerns that if the FDA were to finalize this determination, food processors may be pressured to replace remaining partially hydrogenated oils with those high in saturated fat such as palm or coconut oils, which would not be a good outcome for consumers,” Murphy said.

“Finally, since it will take a few years to ramp up high oleic soybean production to provide an economical alternative to food processors, we believe any final FDA determination on the matter should reflect this timeframe.”

Murphy said ASA would submit comments on the proposal.