In huge advance for public health, food industry given deadline to remove partially hydrogenated oil from food supply

The Food and Drug Administration has finalized its determination that artificial trans fat is no longer generally recognized as safe for use in food. The long-expected move was praised by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest as a public health victory which will result in a decreased incidence of heart disease.

About 85 percent of artificial trans fat has already been eliminated, thanks to a sustained public health campaign that has included disclosing trans fat on Nutrition Facts labelslitigation, and city, county, and state prohibitions on the use of partially hydrogenated oil in restaurants. New York City’s move to phase artificial trans fat out of restaurant meals was a major milestone that demonstrated to the industry and federal regulators that it was relatively easy to replace partially hydrogenated oils for frying, baking, and for other applications, according to CSPI.

“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,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. “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.”

Artificial trans fat promotes heart disease by raising LDL, or bad cholesterol, and lowering HDL, or good cholesterol, and perhaps in other ways, according to CSPI.

“Like most public health measures, at first the phasing out of artificial trans fats was controversial,” said Michael R. Bloomberg, Mayor of New York City from 2002 to 2013. “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.”

The packaged food industry has signaled that it will file a food additive petition asking the FDA to preserve its ability to use small amounts of artificial trans fat for certain uses. Preventing coloring from leaching out of sprinkles and onto frosting was one such use reported by Politico. The food additive petition process would require the industry to demonstrate that the uses would be safe at the levels intended.

“The FDA should continue to minimize Americans’ exposure to artificial trans fat and subject the industry’s petition to a rigorous and skeptical test,” Jacobson said. “If FDA approves it for use as a food additive, it must do so only in the tiniest of amounts.”