In the not-too-distant future, parents will struggle to explain a few things to their children: telephones with rotary dials, rhinoceroses, and now, trans fats.
The FDA says it has finalized its trans fats ban, which will essentially remove trans fat from the American diet. The agency said companies will have three years to remove partially hydrogenated oils that have been linked to heart disease, high cholesterol and obesity.
“Today’s action is an important step forward for public health, and it’s an action that FDA is taking based upon the strength of the science that we have,” Susan Mayne, director of the agency’s center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition said to the Washington Post.
The move has earned high praises from public health groups including the American Heart Association, which called the regulations a “historic victory for the nation’s health.”
“This is great news, and it’s soundly supported by the evidence. There is no one in his right mind who could claim that trans fats are generally regarded as safe,” Walter Willett, chair of the department of nutrition at Harvard University’s school of public health told the Post. “This was really the biggest food processing disaster ever. The human toll has got to be in the millions.”
Trans fats (derived from partially hydrogenated oils) were once the hallmark ingredients of processed foods, from candy bars and chips to frozen pizzas and baked goods. They were prized for their ability to impart a flavor and texture consumers wanted, and they added shelf life to products, giving manufacturers an extended shelf-life at a less costly price tag than lard or butter. But consumption has been on the decline in recent years, as significant bodies of research continue to point to their connection with serious health issues.
“Since 2006, food companies have been required to include trans fat content information on the Nutrition Facts labels,” reports the Post, “And between 2003 and 2012, the FDA estimated, consumption of trans fat has fallen roughly 80 percent.”
Not only did national consumption drop, but major cities including New York, Boston and Philadelphia enforced city-wide bans on trans fats in restaurants, which led companies to increase their efforts to find suitable replacements. Major restaurant chains including McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Chick-fil-A and Dunkin’ Donuts have all cut trans fats from their menus.
While necessary, the ban won’t be cheap. According to the Post, the FDA has estimated the regulations could cost the food industry $6 billion a year over the next two decades, “but that the savings from reduced medical care and other benefits during the same time could eclipse $130 billion.”
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