Wednesday, June 17, 2015

U.S. Trans Fat Ban Is Official

The ban on trans fats in the U.S. food supply is official now. It is nothing to get excited about yet. There is a three-year transition period, and trans fat-based processed foods manufactured before the deadline could remain on store shelves for perhaps three years after that. I am sure we will still be seeing fortune cookies made with trans fats in 2025. The FDA has hinted that it will issue a series of exceptions, so you will still have to read ingredient labels. Nevertheless, from here forward, every time a food factory changes a recipe, they will remove the trans fats as part of that change, so the volume of trans fats U.S. consumers eat will decline.

The clout that the food sector has over news agencies is evident when you look at the reporting on the trans fat ban, much of which leans on falsehoods and fabrications. Many of the stories say that the FDA created a special rule for trans fats, and that is not really true. The essence of what happened is that the FDA withdrew its earlier rule that exempted trans fats from normal food safety procedures. Some stories say the FDA action was prompted by a lawsuit by an unnamed consumer group. I haven’t found any evidence of that either. Rather, it looks like the FDA was responding to a citizen complaint, which may more accurately be thought of a note from the suggestion box than a summons to appear in court. The most appalling distortion comes from Al-Jazeera, whose subhead claims, “Decision to ban partially hydrogenated oils is aimed at curbing obesity.” Obesity? Where did that come from? Did the staff of Al Jazeera English make that up just because it sounded good? Were they recycling a headline from a different story? Did an advertiser order them to distort the story in this manner to make the regulatory move seem sinister?

Watching food factories gyrate over this issue shows that they think they can turn back the clock, but everything else says otherwise. Trans fats have been banned in other countries for decades, and U.S. medical groups have been petitioning to have them eliminated in the U.S. for at least that long. With government agencies on the hook for half of medical costs, there is a strong disincentive to allow novel food contaminants that cause unnecessary heart attacks. U.S. consumers are on an inexorable trend toward being more food-aware, and that includes being aware of ingredients like trans fats that try to pass for natural but that are in fact artificial and potentially harmful.