The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced on Tuesday that companies have until 2018 to remove trans fat from their products. The government hopes the move will prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths from heart disease each year.
The ban specifically targets partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), which are the primary source of trans fat in processed foods. In 2013, the FDA determined that PHOs were no longer “generally recognized as safe.” A number of frozen, canned and baked goods contain PHOs, which is a known contributor to heart disease.
The FDA required that trans fat be listed on the Nutrition Facts label in January 2006 and many companies voluntarily reduced or eliminated trans fat from their products. Between 2003 and 2012, the consumption of trans fat dropped by 78%, according to the FDA. There are, however, manufacturers that still use trans fat in many popular processed foods, including some cookies, frozen pies and microwave popcorn.
“Studies show that diet and nutrition play a key role in preventing chronic health problems, such as cardiovascular disease and today’s action goes hand in hand with other FDA initiatives to improve the health of Americans, including updating the nutrition facts label,” said Susan Mayne, director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, in a statement. “This determination is based on extensive research into the effects of PHOs, as well as input from all stakeholders received during the public comment period."
Companies have a three-year compliance period to remove trans fat from their food or they can petition the FDA to get specific approval in their product. If companies do seek food additive approval, they’ll have to prove that their specific use isn’t damaging to public health. The FDA estimates the action will cost about $6 billion to implement, but will save $140 billion over the next 20 years, as they expect savings in health care and other costs.
Many proponents of the ban are “celebrating” the FDA’s announcement. The American Heart Association called the ban “a historic victory for the nation’s health” in a statement.
“After years of advocating for the removal of industrially produced trans fat from the country’s food supply, we couldn’t be more gratified that this day has finally come. Eliminating this unsafe ingredient from our diets will help give Americans a fighting chance against cardiovascular disease – the leading cause of death in the U.S”
In the meantime, the FDA encourages consumers to look for how much trans fat a product has on the Nutrition Facts label and consider choosing the products with the lowest amount.