A ruling is coming from the Obama administration as early as next week that could force food manufacturers to cut almost all traces of trans fats from foods being sold in the the United States.
Food companies have already reduced trans fat use by 85 percent over the last decade after they were linked to cardiovascular disease, reports Politico
. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to give an update on May 22.
Recent class-action suits have been filed against Nestle and General Mills by the Weston Firm, which represented trans fat researcher Fred Kummerow, who sued the FDA in 2013 for not taking action against partially hydrogenated oils. The FDA said it would make its final determination by June 1, but the update for next week likely means the decision is coming earlier.
There may be limited exceptions to the rules, but the Obama administration has been pushing the move, along with other controversial initiatives, to help push Americans toward eating healthier foods.
Industry leaders are still fighting to keep some partially hydrogenated oils in their foods, and are working on a petition to ask that some uses in "very limited amounts" be permitted.
Trans fats have been used in foods since the 1950s, ironically, as a push to get away from other fats, including butter and lard, in the nation's foods. However, by the 1990s, studies started linking trans fat consumption to cardiovascular disease, which experts say has caused anywhere from 30,000 and 100,000 premature deaths before the food industry started removing trans fats.
The Obama administration issued a determination in 2013 about trans fats, saying the oils are not recognized as being safe, and while the partially hydrogenated oils have been dropped from many products
, other items, such as fast foods, microwave popcorn, desserts, and bread products often often have the oils in them.
"This is a massive win for public health," said Sam Kass, the former senior adviser for nutrition at the White House and executive director of the "Let’s Move!" initiative said, commenting that the FDA has estimated removing trans fat could prevent 20,000 heart attacks and some 7,000 deaths.
"There are few targeted actions you can take in this space that have that kind of direct impact," said Kass.
Trans fats are made by putting hydrogen molecules through liquid oil at high temperatures, making them solid and giving food a longer shelf life and texture.
The FDA is going after industrial or added trans fats, not naturally occurring ones that can be found in meat and dairy products.
But there are some uses for trans fats that the food industry say are still needed, and without the substance, they could face technical and economic challenges. For example, the substance is needed in sprinkles used in cookies, cakes, and ice cream to keep the colors in the sprinkles from bleeding out.
The fats also keep baked goods from sticking to equipment and help stabilize flavors, and FDA will have to work to determine if there are any remaining uses that are still safe for consumers.
Environmental concerns are also being voiced, as many companies use palm oil as a substitute for partially hydrogenated oils. However, growing palms for the oil often means clearing away rainforests to make room to grow the trees.
The decision is expected to also linger in the nation's courts for years.
"I feel sorry for the judges in the Northern District of California," said Glenn Lammi, chief counsel at the Washington Legal Foundation, who has publicly called the FDA’s trans fat policy a "gift to the litigation industry" while hinting the WLF may sue the FDA.
Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said he does not think there is much threat on the legal end, though, as the FDA will likely give the food industry several years to phase out trans fat.
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