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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has preliminarily determined that partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), the primary dietary source of artificial trans fat in processed foods, aren’t “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) for use in food. The agency based its determination on available scientific evidence and the findings of expert scientific panels.
As such, the FDA has opened a 60-day comment period to collect additional data and gain feedback on the time potentially needed for food manufacturers to reformulate products containing artificial trans fat if the preliminary determination is finalized.
In that case PHOs would be considered “food additives” and couldn’t be used in food unless authorized by regulation. If such a determination were made, the FDA said it would provide enough time for food makers to reformulate products to minimize market disruption. The FDA’s preliminary determination only applies to PHOs and doesn’t affect naturally occurring trans fats that appear in small amounts in some meat and dairy products.
“While consumption of potentially harmful artificial trans fat has declined over the last two decades in the United States, current intake remains a significant public health concern,” noted FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg. “The FDA’s action … is an important step toward protecting more Americans from the potential dangers of trans fat. Further reduction in the amount of trans fat in the American diet could prevent an additional 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths from heart disease each year – a critical step in the protection of Americans’ health.”
“One of the FDA’s core regulatory functions is ensuring that food, including all substances added to food, is safe,” added Michael Taylor, the agency’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine. “Food manufacturers have voluntarily decreased trans fat levels in many foods in recent years, but a substantial number of products still contain partially hydrogenated oils, which are the major source of trans fat in processed food.”
“Product safety is the No. 1 priority for America’s food and beverage companies, and we invest our reputations and resources to provide consumers with safe and nutritious products that meet their preferences and lifestyle needs,” affirmed the Washington, D.C.-based Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents more than 300 food, beverage and consumer product companies. “Through our efforts at product reformulation and the development of suitable alternatives, trans fats that are not naturally occurring have been drastically reduced in the food supply. Since 2005, food manufacturers have voluntarily lowered the amounts of trans fats in their food products by over 73 percent.”
The trade organization said it would be “working with the FDA to better understand their concerns and how our industry can better serve consumers.”
According to the FDA, since trans fat content information began appearing on food products’ Nutrition Facts label in 2006, intake among American consumers has decreased from 4.6 grams per day in 2003 to about 1 gram per day in 2012.