The U.S. FDA took steps in June to remove artificial trans fats from processed foods. After its review of the scientific evidence, the agency declared that partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), the primary dietary source of artificial trans fats, are not “generally recognized as safe” (known as “GRAS”) for use in food.
Georges Benjamin, MD, executive director, American Public Health Association, agrees there are no safe levels of trans fat. “By FDA’s estimation, partially hydrogenated oils cause up to 7,000 deaths each year in the U.S. and should be phased out of the food supply as soon as possible,” he says. “FDA has also concluded that the economic benefits of eliminating the use of partially hydrogenated oil greatly outweigh the costs of switching to healthier oils.”
Although our publication doesn’t necessarily focus on public health issues of the food industry, FDA’s latest move will nonetheless impact our readers on how they manufacture their products.
The agency has set a compliance period of three years to allow food manufacturers to either reformulate products without PHOs and/or petition the FDA to permit specific uses of PHOs.
As manufacturers begin to explore ways to eliminate trans fats from their products, there is concern that many will turn to palm oil, which some experts believe isn’t any better for people’s health because it’s high in saturated fats. In addition, while palm oil is a cheap option, the majority used in America’s food supply is produced in ways that cause deforestation and human rights abuses in developing countries.
“It’s heartening that the FDA has banned trans fats for the health of U.S. consumers, but we must ensure this move does not create the perverse consequences of rain forest destruction and land grabbing in poor countries,” points out Jeff Conant, international forests campaigner, Friends of the Earth.
The American Soybean Association (ASA) believes it may have a better alternative. According to the organization, the U.S. soybean industry plans to ramp up production of high oleic soybean oil that can safely replace PHOs and palm oil in many food applications.
“Soybean oil contains no trans fat, is low in saturated fat, is sustainable, and is a broadly available, domestic option for the food industry here in the U.S.,” comments Wade Cowan, ASA’s president and a soybean farmer. The organization will use FDA’s compliance time period to get the high oleic trait integrated into soybean varieties as well as approved in overseas markets so as to be able to meet the future needs of the food industry.