The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently proposed an effective ban on artificial trans fats that represents a step in the right direction toward improving public health in this country.
Trans fats enhance the flavor, texture and shelf life of processed foods, but they’re also a primary contributor to heart disease in the United States. You can find them in doughnuts, canned frosting, frozen pizza, microwaveable popcorn and every junk food in between.
The FDA has determined that trans fats are no longer “generally recognized as safe” – a classification for food additives that are typically considered safe by experts. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate a trans fat ban could prevent 20,000 heart attacks each year.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s attempt to ban the sale of sodas larger than 16 ounces – only a local-level public health policy decision, but it garnered significant national attention – was ultimately unsuccessful. However, support for this federal ruling seems widespread.
New York City has banned trans fats from restaurant food since 2006. McDonald’s and other fast food chains have voluntarily replaced trans fats with other oils.
Clearly, as a public, we should avoid eating trans fats, and the food industry should support that choice by eliminating them from our food supply. Still, trans fats have played such a crucial role in the industry that some are concerned that a replacement could cause more problems.
For one thing, trans fats are less expensive than animal fats. If an outright ban is placed on one substance, large corporations could plausibly come up with some other artificial substitute that might be even worse, just to meet their bottom line.
In that case, there won’t be enough time for testing to gather evidence on whether the new additive should be generally recognized as safe.
The FDA’s proposed regulation is open to public comment, as the agency needs to determine how the change would impact small businesses.
We feel strongly that the ruling will be a beneficial one, if and only if the food industry is prepared to handle the transition. Food providers should submit their feedback within the 60-day period, and help us ensure that they place people before profits.
Editorials represent the majority view of The Miami Hurricane editorial board.