On Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration announced that it would seek to ban partially hydrogenated oils, the major source of trans fat in the American diet. The agency has issued a preliminary determination that the substances are not "generally recognized as safe" for human consumption.
If approved, partially hydrogenated oils (known by the FDA as PHOs) would become an unapproved food additive and would then be illegal if sold in food in the United States. PHOs have been commonly found in processed food since the 1950s because they increase the shelf-life and "flavor stability" of foods like snacks, frozen pizza, coffee creamers, stick margarine and cakes.
The FDA, which is responsible for ensuring food and any substances added to it are safe, has required food labels to reflect the amount of trans fat in an item since 2006. The organization said consumption of trans fat has been reduced since popping up on food labels, but eliminating it entirely could prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 heart-related deaths every year. Trans fats have been scientifically shown to raise levels of "bad cholesterol," to clog arteries and contribute to heart disease.
Michael R. Taylor, FDA deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, said the organization has the responsibility to protect the public from products determined to be unsafe. The public has 60 days to provide input on the proposed trans fat ban before a final decision is made.
"If FDA ultimately determines that partially hydrogenated oils cannot be used in food, we recognize that it may take some time to phase out their use. Therefore, in our notice we are seeking input on the time that industry would need to remove partially hydrogenated oils from the food supply," said Taylor.
He added that the food industry would then be given an appropriate amount of time to comply were a ban to be approved. Trans fats also occur naturally in some meat and dairy products and some other edible oils, so they would not be 100 percent eliminated from the American diet if banned by the FDA.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association, a major lobbying organization for food and beverage companies, did not directly oppose the ban but said great strides had already been made to reduce the amount of trans fats in the food supply. "Consumers can be confident that their food is safe and we look forward to working with the FDA to better understand their concerns and how our industry can better serve consumers," the organization said in a statement.
Despite a high obesity rate, Americans have slowly become more aware of foods they are eating and concerned about healthy choices. Local governments have successfully passed similar trans fat bans, and cities like New York have also attempted to control public consumption of sugary drinks. They say such laws protect public health, but some oppose the government of acting like a "nanny state" by trying to control consumer food choices.
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