Scientists Urge Administration to Stop Foot-Dragging on Trans-Fat Labeling

FDA Estimate: Inaction Causes Up to 15 Deaths per Day


WASHINGTON -- Dozens of scientists and the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) are urging the government to finalize a proposal to include trans fat on food labels. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), including trans fat in the Nutrition Facts label would prevent 2,100 to 5,600 heart-disease deaths annually.

     Trans fat comes mostly from the hydrogenated vegetable oil used in margarine, baked goods, and other packaged foods and by thousands of restaurants to fry chicken, fish, potatoes, and doughnuts. Small amounts occur naturally.

     CSPI petitioned the FDA in 1994 to require trans fat to be included with saturated fat on food labels. In 1999, the FDA proposed a rule to do that, but, despite broad support from scientists and little opposition from industry, has not finalized it.

     A letter sent by 53 scientists to Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson stated that trans fat raises blood cholesterol levels and promotes heart disease. “Regrettably, the FDA still has not finalized its November 1999 proposal. Considering how many lives labeling of trans fat could save annually and the overwhelmingly favorable cost-benefit ratio, we respectfully urge you to take prompt action to ensure that trans fats are labeled,” the letter stated.

     According to the FDA, labeling trans fat would provide benefits worth $3 billion to $8 billion per year, while the costs would be only about $400 million initially and then no more than $144 million per year thereafter.

     CSPI executive director Michael Jacobson said, “The Bush Administration likes using cost-benefit analyses to kill regulations. In this case, the benefits so vastly outweigh the costs that Bush officials literally should be running to the Federal Register with a final rule. Every day of government inaction means more sickness and more deaths.” CSPI has sent a letter urging the Office of Management and Budget to make finalization of the trans-fat rule a top priority.

     Scientists and physicians who signed the letter include Walter Willett and Meir Stampfer, Harvard School of Public Health; Dean Ornish, University of California, San Francisco; Marion Nestle, New York University; Gladys Block of University of California, Berkeley; and Henry Blackburn, University of Minnesota.

     In a related action, last week the Canadian government proposed a nutrition label similar to the one used in the U.S., but that includes trans fat.