The U.S. Food and Drug Administration last week announced its preliminary determination that partially hydrogenated oils, the primary dietary source of artificial trans-fat in processed foods, are not "generally recognized as safe" for use in food. If finalized, the determination could mean that PHOs will be permanently removed from all foods.
While consumption of potentially harmful artificial trans fat has declined over the last two decades in the United States, current intake remains a significant public health concern,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D. “The FDA’s action today is an important step toward protecting more Americans from the potential dangers of trans fat."
Hamburg said trans fat reductions in Americans' diets could mean prevention of an additional 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths from heart disease each year.
In recent years, many food manufacturers and retailers have voluntarily decreased trans fat levels in many foods and products they sell. Trans fat can be found in some processed foods, such as certain desserts, microwave popcorn products, frozen pizzas, margarines and coffee creamers. Numerous retailers and manufacturers have already demonstrated that many of these products can be made without trans fat.
American Soybean Association President Danny Murphy said though the vast majority of soybean oil consumed is not partially hydrogenated and is free of trans fats, the soybean industry, food manufacturers, and vegetable oil processors all have worked to greatly reduce the amount of partially hydrogenated oils and trans fats in food products.
“Additionally, seed and technology companies within the soybean industry have developed soybean varieties that are high in heart-healthy high oleic fatty acids and eliminate the need for partial hydrogenation," Murphy explained in a press statement.
"These high-oleic soybean oil varieties enable food companies to get the functionality they desire for flavor stability, texture, and other important characteristics while avoiding the tradeoff to higher saturated fat or trans fat levels that comes with using palm oil or partially hydrogenated oil for stability."
The FDA's determination is now up for a 60-day review in the Federal Register, where organizations and the public can weigh in on trans fats' place in diets.
If comments indicate support of the preliminary determination, PHOs would be considered “food additives” and could not be used in food unless authorized by regulation. If such a determination were made, FDA said it would provide adequate time for producers to reformulate products in order to minimize market disruption.
Murphy said the allowances are necessary, because if the FDA moves forward with the proposal without leaving enough time, food processors may be pressured to replace remaining partially hydrogenated oils with those high in saturated fat such as palm or coconut oils.
In addition, Murphy said it will take a few years to ramp up high oleic soybean production to provide an economical alternative to food processors, so "any final FDA determination on the matter should reflect this timeframe," he said.
The rule does not affect trans fat that naturally occurs in small amounts in certain meat and dairy products.