On Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced new regulations that will likely make it impossible for any U.S. food manufacturer to include trans fats in its products, capping several decades of efforts to rid the unhealthy fats from American food.
The FDA’s proposed rule would remove trans fats from the “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) list. Only ingredients on the GRAS list can be put into food without getting prior approval. In order for food manufacturers to get an item back onto the GRAS list, they would have to provide evidence of strong scientific consensus that an ingredient isn’t harmful to health.
The exact opposite is true in the case of trans fats, which have been known to raise harmful cholesterol while lowering beneficial cholesterol, leaving people who ingest it in high amounts susceptible to heart disease and other health problems.
“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,” wrote FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg in a press release. “The FDA’s action today is an important step toward protecting more Americans from the potential dangers of trans fat. Further reduction in the amount of trans fat in the American diet could prevent an additional 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths from heart disease each year — a critical step in the protection of Americans’ health.”
Public health organizations such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) had lobbied the FDA to require food labels for products using trans fats — and eventually, a total ban on the substance — since 1994. After an initial proposed regulation in the early 2000s, a watered-down labeling mandate was eventually finalized in 2006. With the FDA’s announcement today, such labels will soon be moot.