The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has banned trans fats, demanding food companies remove the ingredient from their products, such as frostings, microwave popcorn, packaged pies, frozen pizzas, margarine, and coffee creamers, within the next three years.
FDA’s rule says hydrogenated oils—the primary source of artificial trans fats in processed foods—are no longer generally recognized as safe for use in food. FDA says banning trans fats will help to reduce heart disease, the nation’s number one killer.
Jeff Stier, a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research, says such food policing by the federal government has unintended negative consequences. FDA’s decision is wrongheaded and will force food makers to find more expensive and environmentally harmful alternatives to trans fats, he says.
Concerns About Malaysian Replacement
Stier says the most likely replacement for trans fats will be palm oil, which is more expensive because it comes from palm trees in Malaysia.
Stier says FDA’s ban on trans fats could lead to deforestation in that country.
“Food companies will respond by switching to ‘sustainable’ palm oil, which will have to come from areas not as environmentally sensitive, and [will] thus cost more to produce,” Stier said.
FDA estimates the ban will cost the food industry $6.2 billion over 20 years as it reformulates products and substitutes ingredients.
“Food bans are a regressive tax that harm the people who can least afford it, because they will have to pay more for food,” Stier said.
Ross: Benefits Greatly Exaggerated
Dr. Gilbert Ross, executive director of the American Council on Science and Health, did not take any specific position for or against the ban, but he says FDA’s estimate of the expected public health benefits of the regulation is greatly exaggerated given the relatively low levels of trans fatty acids now present in the nation’s food supply as a result of the gradual removal of the ingredient by the food industry.
“While they posit the ban as a major boon to public health, in fact it’s more ‘window dressing’ or ‘intellectual placebo’ than anything truly beneficial,” Ross said.
Michelle Minton, a Competitive Enterprise Institute fellow specializing in consumer policy and FDA regulation of non-pharmaceuticals, says there was no need for the ban because the nation’s public had already educated themselves through labeling and public service announcements, which shows the free-market system works.
“Americans have almost completely eliminated trans fats from their diets voluntarily, so this proves the market works,” Minton said. “The additive was generally recognized as safe, but this administration believes any amount is harmful. We know large amounts are not good for you, but none of the research has looked at the effects of low intake of trans fats.
“People should be able to make their own dietary decisions, not [coerced by] government and biased scientists,” Minton said. “Government has shown time and time again that when it meddles in food choices, it makes the wrong decisions.”
Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) is managing editor of Health Care News.
“Docket No. FDA-2013-N–1317: Final Determination Regarding Partially Hydrogenated Oils,” Dept. of Health and Human Services and the Food and Drug Administration, June 16, 2015: https://heartland.org/policy-documents/docket-no-fda-2013-n-1317-final-determination-regarding-partially-hydrogenated-oils