FDA Says Artificial Trans-Fat No Longer Approved For Use In Food

Artificial trans fats are believed to promote coronary disease by increasing the amount of bad cholesterol in the blood while decreasing the levels of good cholesterol. While the use of partially hydrogenated oils — the largest dietary source of these trans fats — has dropped significantly in the last decade, there is still concern about their continued use and the impact it’s having on consumer health. Today, the FDA declared that these oils are no long “generally recognized as safe” [GRAS] for use in human food and is giving manufacturers three years to eliminate them from prepared food products.

Today’s declaratory order [PDF] is a finalization of the FDA’s 2013 tentative determination that these oils are not GRAS and should be consumed as rarely as possible.

Manufacturers now have until June 18, 2018 to comply with the order. During this period, companies may petition the FDA if they believe that specific uses of a partially hydrogenated oil should be permitted. After the deadline, only uses specifically approved by the FDA will be allowed.

For nearly a decade, the FDA has required that prepared food companies provide information on trans fat content in their products. By 2012, consumption of trans fats had dropped nearly 80%, in part driven by customer choice and by food companies moving away from partially hydrogenated oils.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently calculated that around 5,000 Americans a year die of heart disease linked to trans fat in the food supply, with another 15,000 getting heart disease.

“The eventual elimination of artificial trans fat from the food supply will mean a healthier food supply, fewer heart attacks and heart disease deaths, and a major victory for public health,” says Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “The final determination made today by the Food and Drug Administration gives companies more than enough time to eliminate the last of the partially hydrogenated oil that is still used in foods like microwave popcorn, biscuits, baked goods, frostings, and margarines.”

A major move in away from the widespread use of trans fats was New York City’s decision in 2008 to ban on trans fats at restaurants. This forced the hands of several chains to stop using partially hydrogenated oils nationwide. Last year, Long John Silver’s — a rare holdout from the glory days of trans fats — announced that its entire menu was now free of the stuff.

“Like most public health measures, at first the phasing out of artificial trans fats was controversial,” said former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose administration pushed for the trans fat ban. “But as soon as New Yorkers understood that taking trans fats out of a dish didn’t impact the way their favorite foods tasted, and restaurant owners understood that the ban didn’t hurt business, the measure was widely accepted. In fact, the trans fat ban became a point of pride for many restaurants. When the FDA finishes the work that we started in New York City, tens of thousands of lives will be saved each year by this sensible public health measure.”