FDA Announces Ban on Trans Fat in US Food Supply

The Food and Drug Administration announced this week that the agency was finalizing a plan to eliminate trans fats from the nation’s food supply over the next three years.  The announcement represents the aggressive stance taken by the FDA to promote public health by reducing access to potentially dangerous foods. 

Trans Fats the Target of FDA Public Health Campaign

Since the 1940’s, food manufacturers have relied on trans fats for taste, texture, and food preservation because it is cheaper than butter, lard, or other animal fats that are available.  Scientific and medical research in the mid 1990’s kicked off a widespread public health campaign citing an alarming increase in heart disease linked directly to the increased consumption of trans fats in foods.  As a result of the scientific community’s concerns about the dangers of trans fats, the FDA issued a 2003 regulation requiring all food manufacturers to include trans fats levels on food product labels to make consumers aware of the issue.

The Institute of Medicine released a report in 2002 that warned there are “no safe level of trans fatty acids and people should eat as little of them as possible,” and over time the agency has reported a decrease in trans fat consumption from 4.6 grams per day in 2003 to about 1 gram per day in 2012.  As the increased scrutiny of the use of trans fats releases more concerning information about their consumption, states and cities, including New York and Philadelphia, have banned the use of artificial trans fats in restaurants, bakeries, and delis.  Private companies have joined the campaign with McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Taco Bell all removing trans fats from their fast food menus.

With the national awareness of the harms of trans fats on the rise, the FDA has taken the opportunity to regulate with the goal of eliminating the use of trans fats in America’s food supply.  Although this week’s announcement represents the final step in its plan, the FDA has been gradually chipping away at the use of trans fats over the past several years.

FDA Regulation of Trans Fats Culminates in Ban

In 2013 the FDA declared trans fats were a threat to public health, and removed them from the unregulated category of foods generally recognized as safe (GRAS).  Taken together with labeling requirements, the FDA’s continued regulation of the use of trans fats in food has escalated throughout the decade, finally coming to a head this week when the agency made its announcement about the upcoming ban.

Within three years, trans fats will no longer be permitted in foods unless manufacturers get a special written exemption for products with low levels of trans fats in them.  Economic experts estimate that the cost of the regulation will be $6 billion over the next 20 years, however, the savings in medical expenses over the same period of time will likely exceed $130 billion.   With the costs of the regulation dwarfed by the expected benefits not only in health care but public health in general, the FDA has strong economic and medical support for its decision to initiate a ban on trans fats.

Scientific Community Welcomes FDA Ban on Trans Fats

Members of the scientific and medical community have expressed unanimous approval for the FDA’s decision to ban trans fat from food production.  Dr. Steven Nissen, chair of cardiovascular medicine at the world renowned Cleveland Clinic, praised the agency’s actions, saying, “What we've learned is … the trans fat that is really harmful and we had made the dietary situation worse. I'm terribly proud of the FDA for stepping in and knowing what needed to be done for the American diet.”

Medical professionals within the FDA and across the country at institutions such as Harvard University and the Center for Science in the Public Interest have echoed the praise for the FDA’s decision by pointing out the devastating effect trans fats have on the American diet.  While the regulation may be difficult for some grocery stores and food manufacturers, the FDA and the scientific community have likely presented sufficient evidence to enforce a complete ban on the use to trans fats in food in order to promote public health.

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