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The Trans Fat Temper Tantrum

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My 2 year old grandson has not yet learned the meaning of “just a minute.” Like most children his age, when he wants something, he wants it now — and by now he means instantly.  When mother says just a minute, the world explodes into a tantrum of screaming, kicking, and tears.  The officials at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are fixated at about the 2 year old level and are currently having a tantrum about trans fat.

In 1999 the FDA announced that, by 2006, food manufacturers had to start listing the levels of trans fats on their products.  As a result, a rush began to reformulate thousands of food products to lower or eliminate the level of trans fat. This meant the elimination of partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), one of the sources of trans fat in processed food products.  This sent the soybean industry scrambling to develop a new kind of soybean oil that did not produce trans fat when cooked. High oleic soybean oil has emerged as an oil that meets the demands of food processors but does not produce trans fat. 

High oleic soybean production has been on the rise, with more and more acres of the soybean variety being planted each year. Current projections from QUALISOY indicate that approximately 1.3 billion pounds of high oleic soybean oil will be extracted from the 2016 crop of high oleic soybeans and available for use by the food industry in 2017, with increasing quantities available in subsequent years. Yet, FDA is not willing to wait for the market to catch up. They have proposed to further reduce trans fat consumption by rescinding the generally regarded as safe (GRAS) status for partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), including partially hydrogenated soybean oil. This action will force food processors to switch from healthy oils, like soy, to palm and other imported oils that are high in saturated fat. ASA stated, “The saturated fat profile of palm oil is 6.7 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon, compared to just 2 grams for soybean oil. The result of this trade-off would be a ‘lose-lose’ for both the government and American consumers.”

The American Feed Association is also concerned about the proposed FDA rule. In a statement, they said FDA does not clearly define that the phase-out process only applies to human food for consumption and not animal food. “AFIA believes FDA’s tentative determination on trans fats is unclear in areas as it does not verify that the language is not valid for food for consumption by animals other than man,” said Leah Wilkinson, AFIA director of ingredients, pet food and state affairs.

Whether it is producing healthier oils in which to cook our food, or producing renewable fuel to run our cars, American agriculture is up to the challenge. Yet, it is the heavy hand of government that is meddling with the free market and slowing the eventual solution to the problem. The FDA is not willing to wait for the market to solve the problem but wants to force their solution regardless of the consequences.

Not only would the FDA action make food less healthy not more healthy, it would also hamper future developments that might improve the health and safety of our food supply. According to the American Soybean Association, “We believe that the FDA’s proposal is so sweeping in its application that it would stymie technological advances in oil processing that aren’t even envisioned today. As there is no definition of ‘partially hydrogenated,’ and as we know that the term encompasses a whole spectrum of oils, we are concerned that new technologies would be a casualty of the FDA’s proposal.”

Since the original FDA mandate, trans fat consumption has fallen by 70% thanks to industry innovation and education. Another few years will likely see this number continue to grow. However, that is not good enough for the regulators in Washington.

 

By Gary Truitt