The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced today that most trans fats, also known as trans fatty acids, are no longer considered safe and must be removed from manufactured foods.
Most trans fats come from partially hydrogenated oil, which is made by pumping hydrogen into vegetable oil. The resulting product is used in cookies, crackers and other foods to improve shelf life. Its also used to make margarine and butter substitutes.
But this ingredient has been linked to heart disease, cardiovascular diseases and other chronic health problems. According to the FDA, the ban is expected to prevent thousands of heart attacks per year.
According to World Health Organization, “National and local bans on trans fats in the preparation of foodstuffs are one of the most effective ways to prevent some of the world’s biggest killer diseases.” The organization has called for the elimination of trans fats from the global food supply.
Since 2006, manufacturers in the U.S. have been required to label trans fats, and already Americans consume much less than they once did. The FDA reports that consumption of trans fats decreased by 78 percent from 2003 to 2012. Yet still too much is being eaten.
Some consumer advocates say today’s announcement does not go far enough. Manufacturers are allowed to label foods that contain less than half a gram of trans fat and still market those foods as “zero trans fat” or “trans fat free.” The Environmental Working Group says that amounts to a loophole. They also say the FDA should have given manufacturers a closer deadline.
Manufacturers will be given a three year window to remove hydrogenated oils from their products, or petition the agency for exceptions. In the interim, people are encouraged to check the labels on processed foods and avoid buying items containing trans fats.