The FDA planned to announce Thursday it will require the food industry to gradually phase out all trans fats, saying they are a threat to people's health. Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said the move could prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths each year.
Hamburg said that while the amount of trans fats in the country's diet has declined dramatically in the last decade, they "remain an area of significant public health concern." The trans fats have long been criticized by nutritionists, and New York and other local governments have banned them.
The agency isn't yet setting a timeline for the phase-out, but it will collect comments for two months before officials determine how long it will take. Different foods may have different timelines, depending how easy it is to find a substitute.
"We want to do it in a way that doesn't unduly disrupt markets," says Michael Taylor, FDA's deputy commissioner for foods. Still, he says, the food "industry has demonstrated that it is by and large feasible to do."
If they don’t want to unduly disrupt markets they could always just opt not to. As is typical of this sort of behavior, it’s going to have a bigger impact on your neighborhood family-run bakery than it will on big chains like Dunkin’ Donuts. Dunkin’ popped to mind because they’re just now breaking into the California market, and the local media is all over it right now. Dunkin’ Donuts started voluntarily dumping trans fats in 2007, which required them to reformulate more than 50 menu items. A big chain like them can manage the transition just fine. But back when California instituted a ban, some smaller bakeries reported they’d have to raise prices as the ban both increased production costs and also reduced shelf life of their goods. Back around that same time a piece in The Atlantic explored the challenges of replacing trans fats and noted the challenges for certain types of baked goods.
Dunkin’ Donuts replaced their trans fats with saturated fats (read their nutritional guide here), which is another fat with a bad reputation. But in October, a British medical journal argued that the war on saturated fat was misguided, and it was being blamed for heart problems that were likely being caused by carbs and sugar.
The FDA acknowledges that trans fat consumption has already dropped significantly in the past decade so mandating it is necessary why exactly? The Associated Press notes:
Though they have been removed from many items, the fats are still found in processed foods, including in some microwave popcorns and frozen pizzas, refrigerated doughs, cookies and ready-to-use frostings. They are also sometimes used by restaurants that use the fats for frying. Many larger chains have phased them out, but smaller restaurants may still get food containing trans fats from suppliers.
It may end up being yet another barrier to entry for smaller restaurants and producers to compete against established chains.
More Reason on trans fat bans and other food police behavior here.
If that’s not enough, Hank Hill can explain it all for you.