The FDA reached an agreement on Tuesday in which artificial trans fat will be removed from the U.S. food supply over the next three years due to such products posing health risks that contribute to heart disease.
The FDA's final decision, released Tuesday, stated that there’s no longer a scientific consensus that partially hydrogenated oils, the primary source of trans fat, are safe.
Partially hydrogenated oils are typically used for frying, in baked goods and confections.
Food manufacturers will still be able to petition the FDA for specific uses of partially hydrogenated oils if they can prove the use isn't harmful. A June 2018 deadline has been set to comply with the FDA’s determination.
While the new regulation still leaves the door open for manufacturers to present data that their specific uses are safe, the FDA said it hasn't seen any data to prove that even very low levels of partially hydrogenated oils are safe for humans.
Partially hydrogenated oils have been used by big food manufacturers for decades, though many such have been phasing them out. Most baked goods such as pie crusts, biscuits and canned frosting still use partially hydrogenated oils because they help processed baked goods maintain their flakiness and help long shelf life frostings remain spreadable.
To replace the dangerous oils in frying, palm oil is expected to be the most common alternative, while modified soybean oil could be used as well.
“I don’t know how many lives will be saved, but probably in the thousands per year when all the companies are in compliance,” said Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
According to the FDA, the ban will cost the food industry $6.2 billion over 20 years, due to the need to reformulate products and find substitute ingredients. But the FDA estimates that the benefits will total $140 billion during the same time period from lower spending on health care.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association, the lobby group for big food companies, said that the three-year compliance period “provides time needed for food manufacturers to complete their transition.”
Yet the association will still petition the FDA for approval of uses of low levels of partially hydrogenated oils and thinks it can demonstrate they are as safe as naturally occurring trans fat.