This week the Food and Drug Administration announced that it is targeting trans fats in food. Specifically, the FDA announced its preliminary determination that partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), the primary source of trans fat in the American diet, are [no longer] “generally recognized as safe” as food additives. If finalized, this determination would mean that food producers would be required to obtain pre-market approval before adding PHOs to foods. As a practical matter, this would practically end the use of PHOs.
The FDA has been concerned about trans fats for the past decade or so. Food labels have been required to list trans fat content since 2006. But there was a time when health experts, and the self-appointed food nannies, thought trans fats were safe. Indeed, as detailed in this Atlantic piece (and this lengthier academic article), there was a time when groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest were urging fast food chains and others to replace animal fats with PHOs. So while CSPI today praises the FDA for targeting trans fats, it also celebrated decisions by fast food chains like Burger King to start using trans fat-heavy PHOs. In other words, had it not been for the food nannies, American consumption of trans fats might not have been so high in the first place.
UPDATE: A commenter notes that the FDA does not require full disclosure of trans fat contents in food as nutritional labels are only required to list he amount of trans fats per serving, and can list the amount as zero if it is below 0.5g. This is correct, but not limited to trans fats. For instance, it’s true with calories too.
Also, I edited the first paragrpah to re-insert some accidentally omitted words. I apologize for the error.