by Marion Nestle
Nov 7 2013

Trans-fat: FDA proposes to eliminate GRAS status

The FDA has just announced a proposal to withdraw GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) status for trans-fat.

My first reaction: Isn’t trans-fat already out of the food supply?  Hasn’t this been one of the food industry’s greatest public health achievements?

Once the FDA started to require trans-fat to be listed on food labels, food companies quickly stopped using partially hydrogenated oils (the source of trans-fat) and found healthier substitutes.  That’s why most food labels list zero grams trans-fat.

But the FDA allows food labels to say zero trans-fat if its amount is below 0.5 gram per serving.

Some manufacturers are still using a little.  This new initiative will encourage them to get rid of those last little bits.

Contrary to the New York Times headline, this is not exactly a ban on trans-fat.  If trans-fat is no longer GRAS, manufacturers can still file a food additive petition to continue using partially hydrogenated oils.

The Federal Register notice asks for input for the next 60 days.

I say congratulations to all:

  • To food companies who worked hard to find ways to substitute healthier fats for trans-fats.
  • To the FDA for finally taking care of the trans-fat 0.5-gram loophole.
  • To Center for Science in the Public Interest for bringing health problems with trans-fat to public attention.
  • To all of the researchers who did the science linking trans-fat to higher LDL-cholesterol levels and to heart disease risk.
  • To the New York City health department for banning trans-fats from use in city restaurants.

Americans will be healthier as a result of all of your efforts.

Resources

At the moment, the FDA has not yet posted its Federal Register notice on the GRAS status of trans-fat. When it does, the notice should be available here.

CSPI’s home page on trans fat

The FDA trans-fat home page

FDA consumer materials

FDA guidance for industry

Research

Comments

  • ianloic
  • November 7, 2013
  • 10:31 am

While I’m pleased and impressed by the exodus of trans-fats from our food supply, I’m disappointed that they’ve largely been replaced by South East Asian palm oil which has significant environmental impact.

[…] artificial trans fat per serving in a product is not required to appear on nutrition labels, so as Marion Nestle reported, manufacturers can say their product has “zero trans fat” while still including a […]

  • Mark.
  • November 7, 2013
  • 4:02 pm

Do they distinguish between natural trans-fats produced by bacteria in the guts of ruminants by bacteria, and artificial ones produced by hydrogenation? The former appear to be benign. Nutrition information on packages of frozen ready-made beef dishes often shows the natural trans-fat content.

Last I checked nutrition information, many brands of grocery-store breakfast biscuits had over a gram per serving of trans-fat. So had McDonalds’ breakfast biscuit sandwiches, and so had biscuits at the Mayo Clinic cafeterias in Minnesota. Maybe some or all of this was natural trans-fat from animal sources but the ingredient lists usually mention partially-hydrogenated oils. This was less than a year ago.

CSPI inadvertently put more artificial trans fats in the food supply by discouraging use of animal fat for frying: they are a vegetarian organization as well. It took them a while to start telling the world about the dangers of artificial trans fats.

  • Michael Bulger
  • November 7, 2013
  • 7:18 pm

The FDA is proposing to remove GRAS for artificial trans fat. They distinguish between added and naturally occurring trans fat.

[…] TV Media reports last eventing on Trans-fat: FDA proposes to eliminate GRAS status and what was Canada doing about […]

[…] Trans-fat: FDA proposes to eliminate GRAS status […]

  • Nick A. Zukin
  • November 8, 2013
  • 7:09 pm

Marion, I heard you on this subject on public radio today and checked this out. I always appreciate your relatively balanced perspective, even on things you generally have a very strong opinion on.

I’m suspicious of this action, however. It seems to me that most of the action needed was already taken. PHOs do have a place, it seems to me, in that they, frankly, make better tasting food in many cases, especially for vegans and vegetarians. Their alternatives are few and if eliminated, I foresee a lot of pressure on those few alternatives, resulting in artificially high prices, environmental concerns, and inflation in countries where a poor populace relies on cheap prices. (It would be ironic if we started exporting a lot more of our cheap PHOs to countries sending us their palm and coconut oils.)

Ultimately, I don’t think that will be the case, though. I can’t imagine the federal government being able to put Crisco and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter out of business. (Crisco, I think, uses both fully hydrogenated palm oil and PHOs now.) You hint at this. Instead, it will end up being a new power relationship between the federal government and food companies and probably another source of corruption as Procter & Gamble get shaken down to keep their products in circulation, even though they’ve already reduced the transfat contents to almost nil.

I’m not encouraged by the vagueness in both the media and at the FDA’s site, too. Is transfat going to be the issue or is it going to be PHOs? It seems they’re going to put all their emphasis on PHOs. I don’t think most media reports have really done a good job of recognizing the difference or what the ramifications will be.

[…] Since almost any food can become dangerous if consumed in excess over an extended period, this move would set a precedent for the FDA to go after other food ingredients. Unsurprisingly, self-styled “public health” advocates — always at the forefront of nanny state regulatory efforts – are elated at this prospect. […]

  • Amy Alkon
  • November 10, 2013
  • 3:02 pm

Let’s remember that it was bad science promoted by doctors and researchers and then the government that led to people and companies gravitating to trans fat (over lard, butter, etc.) in the first place.

[…] Since almost any food can become dangerous if consumed in excess over an extended period, this move would set a precedent for the FDA to go after other food ingredients. Unsurprisingly, self-styled “public health” advocates — always at the forefront of nanny state regulatory efforts – are elated at this prospect. […]

[…] Since almost any food can become dangerous if consumed in excess over an extended period, this move would set a precedent for the FDA to go after other food ingredients. Unsurprisingly, self-styled “public health” advocates — always at the forefront of nanny state regulatory efforts - are elated at this prospect. […]

[…] huge public health victory could be in the cards for 2014–partially hydrogenated oils (artificial trans fats) may soon be a thing of the past if the Food & Drug Administration yanks their Generally Recognized as Safe status. Certainly […]

[…] Trans-fat: FDA proposes to eliminate GRAS status <<Hey, check it out! The FDA is doing its job!! (Food Politics) […]

[…] Trans-fat: FDA proposes to eliminate GRAS status <<Hey, check it out! The FDA is doing its job!! (Food Politics) […]

[…] there are still a few products, such as Bisquick, that will need to reformulate after the FDA’s recent decision to pull trans fats from the GRAS (generally regarded as safe) […]

Leave a comment