The Food and Drug Administration took steps on Thursday to ban trans fats by proposing measures that would eliminate the artery clogging substance that is a major contributor to heart disease.
The proposal is open for public comment for 60 days. It would allow the agency to declare partially hydrogenated oils, the source of trans fats, no longer “generally recognized as safe.”
Should the proposal go through, companies will have to prove scientifically that partially hydrogenated oils are safe to eat, reports The New York Times.
Proving the oils safe would be a very high hurdle because scientific literature currently shows the contrary. The Institute of Medicine has already concluded that there is no safe level for consumption of artificial trans fats.
Public health advocates have been battling against trans fats for three decades. The fats form when liquid oil is treated with hydrogen gas and made solid. The long-lasting fats are popular in frying and baking and in household items like margarine. They were cheaper than animal fats, like butter.
ABC News notes that Michael Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods, explained that the agency hasn’t set a timeline for phasing out artificial trans fats. He added, “We want to do it in a way that doesn’t unduly disrupt markets.” Taylor added that the food “industry has demonstrated that it is by and large feasible” to find a substitute for partially hydrogenated oils.
In preparation to phase them out, the FDA already made the preliminary determination that the fats are no longer safe. The category of “generally recognized as safe” is already home to thousands of additives that manufacturers add to foods without review from the FDA.
Many companies already phased out trans fats because of new nutrition labels the FDA introduced in 2006 that list trans fats. An increasing number of local laws have also banned them. While they have been removed from many items, they are still found in processed foods like microwave popcorn, frozen pizzas, refrigerated doughs, cookies, and ready-to-use frostings.
FDA officials have been working on the trans fat issue for about 15 years. A deadline for phasing them out will likely be set when the public comment time is over.
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