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Did the FDA Really Ban Trans Fats? No.

June 18, 2015

By: Leon Bruner, PhD- Executive Vice President, Scientific and Regulatory Affairs and Chief Science Officer

The news media is filled with headlines saying that the FDA has banned trans fats from the American diet. Unfortunately, this rather startling characterization is inaccurate in several ways.

In fact, there is a lot of confusion about what FDA’s ruling means, what partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) are, how they factor into food manufacturing and how manufacturers are looking to move forward into the future. I hope this blog and educational clips like the one hyperlinked here will help to clear up some of the confusion about PHOs and what the FDA has done.

Did the FDA really ban trans fats? Actually, they didn’t.  Trans fats are naturally occurring in foods we eat each day.  The best examples include dairy and meat products.  If these staples are in your diet, then you’ll still consume trans fat, and the FDA is fine with that.

It’s a mistake to say that FDA has banned trans fats from PHOs.  It’s not a ban. FDA actually changed the regulatory status of PHOs, which are the primary source of trans-fat added to foods, from Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) to that of a food additive.  This means that the industry must either remove trans fat-containing PHOs from food products or submit a food additive petition seeking FDA approval for specified PHO uses.  The FDA provided a three year time frame in order to complete these actions.

It’s important to know that food and beverage companies have already voluntarily lowered the amount of PHOs added to products by more than 86% — and are continuing to lower usage even further.

FDA’s action to reclassify the regulatory status of PHOs means that companies can still submit a food additive petition for specific PHO uses and usage levels. In fact, the FDA has encouraged the industry to do just that.  When the petition is submitted FDA then can assess whether there is a “reasonable certainty of no harm” associated with the uses defined in the petition.

The food industry’s food additive petition will urge the FDA to approve limited specific PHO use and usage levels. This petition is unprecedented in several ways. Notably, this petition would be the first food additive petition seeking approval of specific uses of an ingredient that has already been in our food supply for more than 70 years.

Food safety is the number one priority for our members and everyone at GMA. We look forward to working with the FDA to clarify safe use and usage levels of PHOs in food products, and on our petition for continued low-level uses of PHOs that have the same level of safety as the naturally occurring trans-fat found in the food we eat each day.



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