The Food and Drug Administration is banning the sale and use of artificial trans-unsaturated fatty acids in food made in the United States, in the name of increasing public health. Trans-unsaturated fatty acids are used in many recipes to improve the taste of food and improve foods’ shelf life.
Mercatus Center Vice President of Policy Research and Senior Research Fellow Richard Williams says the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not sufficiently studied the potential implications of a trans fat ban.
Williams is also a former director for social sciences at FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.
“They don’t have enough information to know whether or not the ban is a good idea. One thing you always have to know, if you are going to take something away, what’s going to take its place,” he said.
‘The Science Isn’t There’
Williams says scientific studies have not concluded that an all-out ban is necessary.
“We did have a rule that trans-fatty acids would be put on the labels of food, that took us from an average of 4 grams consumption to 1 gram consumption, which, if 4 grams were bad from a public health perspective, as it affected both HDL [high-density lipoprotein] and LDL [low-density lipoprotein], down to 1 gram, it should probably be looked at as a public health victory. But now, once we get down to less than one gram of trans-fatty acids, the science isn’t there,” he said.
“The FDA doesn’t know if we go from one gram to approximately zero, whether or not it’s going to have the same effects on heart disease that it did at the higher levels. It’s like any substance on earth, you really need to know the threshold of concern,” Williams said.
What’s the Replacement?
Williams says FDA’s ban is short-sighted.
“Trans-fatty acids were developed back when food activists were concerned about animal fats in the early 1970s, but they never asked the question, ‘if we do away with animal fats, what will replace them?’ We have the exact same issue now,” William said.
“It’s not good policy not to know what the replacement is, because now what you replace it with might be worse, the same problem we had from the beginning. So they are repeating the same mistake.”
Already On the Decline
Keep Food Legal Foundation executive director and George Mason University Law School adjunct professor Baylen Linnekin says a ban is unnecessary, because consumers were already reducing their trans-fat intake.
“As a result of a lawsuit by a professor who believed he had the evidence to support a ban, the FDA began labeling all trans fats since 2006. Consequently, Americans have been eating far less trans-fats and it’s to the point now where we are eating less trans-fats than the American Heart Association says are harmful. I think we consume on average about 1 gram per day, and the Heart Association recommends less than 2 grams per day,” he said.
“I don’t think the FDA should ban trans-fats, I think it’s a mistake and the science doesn’t support it. People have a right to make their own food choices, and that freedom of choice is one of the most important freedoms that Americans hold dear,” Linnekin said.
Jen Kuznicki ([email protected]) writes from Hawks, Michigan.