Trans fat ban: What does it really mean?

Crisco_canLast week the media lit up with reports that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had banned trans fats from the food supply. These reports were followed in short order by whoops of glee and shrieks of outrage. Strangely enough, the shrieks of outrage came from all the libertarians out there (of which I am one, I suppose, but not one who is shrieking in this instance), who felt the FDA ban was the first step down the slippery slope toward banning saturated fat.

First trans fats, next bacon.

But the FDA ban isn’t really a ban, although, for all practical purposes, it may well turn out to have the same effect.

Let us take a look at what really happened and where this so-called ban stands.

History of GRAS

 

Back in 1958, Congress enacted the Food Additives Amendment to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) of 1938. The amendment clarified the FDA’s regulatory status of a large number of additives used in food prior to 1958. The FDA basically listed a ton of foods substances and additives that had been in use prior to 1958, and stated that as long as these substances are used “for the purposes indicated and in accordance with current good manufacturing practices” they would be considered GRAS (generally regarded as safe).

Many substances long in use before 1958 were basically grandfathered in as GRAS. The list was long and included “vinegar, vegetable oil, baking powder, and many salts spices, flavors, gums and preservatives.” Under the rubric of vegetable oils is included trans fat, aka partially hydrogenated fats. These partially hydrogenated fats (trans fats) are often called partially hydrogenated oils (PHO) in the literature.

Between 1958 and 1997, food manufacturers were required to petition the FDA to get new food additives added to the GRAS list. In 1997, due to resource limitations, the FDA amended the FD&C Act to basically allow food companies to gather a group of scientists together, have them look at the data and declare a given additive as GRAS. The FDA is supposed to be notified, but in many cases it isn’t, and as a consequence, many additives have been deemed GRAS and added to foods with no real oversight.

Trans fats (PHOs) don’t fall into this latter category; they were grandfathered in back in 1958 because they had been in use for so long. Crisco, for example, has been around since 1911 and is pretty much all a PHO. At least as I understand it. I admit haven’t kept up closely with the history of Crisco.

Due to many complaints about health problems occasioned by, consumption of PHOs, in 2006 the FDA began requiring that PHOs be listed on food labels. If any food contained more than 0.5 g of trans fat per serving, the amount had to be listed. If the food contained less than 0.5 g per serving, the product could be labeled “trans fat free.” Many people, myself included, objected to this labeling because getting multiple doses of 0.4 g throughout the day could add up to a lot of trans fat.

Current FDA action

 

As a consequence of a huge number of complaints and a ton of scientific research, the FDA has finally buckled and announced that it has tentatively determined that PHOs are not generally recognized as safe (GRAS).

This finding has no legal effect at this point. So there is no ban on trans fats despite what you may have read to the contrary.

If the FDA does ultimately determine that PHOs are not GRAS, then food manufacturers would no longer be allowed to sell foods containing trans fats without first obtaining the FDA’s approval to use them as food additives. The same rule would apply to restaurants and other services supplying food to the public.

What happens now?

 

The FDA is providing food manufacturers and other entities that would be affected until Jan 7, 2014 to submit comments, scientific information and any other materials that could influence the ultimate outcome of the tentative determination. Since it is estimated that the initial cost to remove PHOs from the food supply is in the range of $8B (plus no doubt a ton of additional other costs that will arise from the law of unintended consequences) I am certain an enormous amount of data – both pro and con – will be provided for the panel to consider.

Since so much money is involved, the FDA, as it has done in the past, may extend the date for commentary. Even if the Jan 7, 2014 date holds, looking at the timing of the ruling requiring food labeling of trans fats, it could be several years before any permanent action takes effect. (The FDA finalized the ruling requiring trans fats to be labeled in 2003 but the ruling didn’t take effect until 2006.)

What’s the current status?

 

The current status is the status quo. Manufacturers and restaurants can keep putting trans fats into food until the final ruling takes effect. The only current law as applied to trans fats is the one requiring the amount in any food to be shown on the label. And any amount of trans fats below 0.5 g don’t have to appear on the label.

Between now and Jan 7, 2014, food manufacturers will provide everything they can get their hands on showing PHOs to be non-problematic. The anti-trans-fat brigade will bury the FDA in papers showing how PHOs are detrimental to health. There will be an enormous lobbying effort to get the Jan 7 date pushed out.

Nothing will happen in a hurry.

After whatever date ends up being the final date for getting info in, there will ensue a lobbying effort to emasculate or delay the final ruling. Plus, you’ve got the standard lack of efficiency of any government bureaucracy that will add to the delay.

So, until the final ruling comes down and takes effect, whenever that may be, don’t think that any food you purchase or get at a restaurant is trans fat free.

What is my take on the potential PHO ban?

 

My view is that this is a long overdue action on the part of the FDA. I’ll be glad to see the final law take effect, assuming it ever does.

Based on my reading of the literature, trans fats pose risks for long-term health. The body treats them differently than it does natural fats and differently than it does the types of trans fats found in nature. There exist perfectly good substitutes for trans fats in naturally occurring saturated fats. So there is really no need for these franken fats that do nothing but create health problems.

There is a fear among those with a libertarian bent that once trans fats are ixnayed, a ban on saturated fats can’t be far behind.

I don’t think this is a valid fear.

Why?

Because the act under which trans fats will be banned (should that event actually come to pass) deals with food additives, not food. Trans fats are a food additive. They are artificially created substances, which qualify on all counts as an additive and not a food.

Unless a new act comes along that allows the banning of actual foods, then I don’t see any way saturated fat or any other kind of natural fat can be banned under the FD&C Act. And looking at how the evidence is stacking up showing saturated fat to be not just non-harmful but actually healthful, I can’t imagine they will even be looked at with an eye toward regulating them in the foreseeable future.

The one thing I do find annoying in this whole banning-PHOs scenario is the egregious misbehavior of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). These jerks, consumed by their fear of saturated fats – particularly saturated fats of animal origin – led the charge to have these natural fats replaced by trans fats. Why? Because trans fats are vegetable oils, which is more in keeping with the vegetarian leanings of the CSPI. Once the scientific literature accumulated showing the disastrous health effects of trans fats, CSPI jumped in front of the parade demanding a ban on trans fats. Which is one of the few good things they’ve done. But they have been totally disingenuous in not revealing that they, themselves, are a big part of the reason the current food supply is awash in trans fats.

I’ll leave you with this brilliant portrayal of the Guy from CSPI, courtesy of Tom Naughton’s great movie Fat Head.

My favorite line: “That’s because you’re evil, and you’re stupid.”  Pretty much sums up the way these people think.  In the case of the trans fat imbroglio, CSPI is both evil and stupid.


If you have thoughts on this recent FDA action, pro or con, feel free to voice then via comment.

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64 thoughts on “Trans fat ban: What does it really mean?

  1. I think I read that these guidelines were being spearheaded by Walter Willet of Harvard studies infamy – Kings Of The Always Wrong Epidemiologists?

    I hate to play the ad hominem, but jeez, sure, I’ve got no love for trans-fats, but hey… Taubes wrote a bunch of stuff sort of about them here:

    http://garytaubes.com/2012/03/science-pseudoscience-nutritional-epidemiology-and-meat/

    “..every time in the past that these researchers had claimed that an association observed in their observational trials was a causal relationship, and that causal relationship had then been tested in experiment, the experiment had failed to confirm the causal interpretation — i.e., the folks from Harvard got it wrong. Not most times, but every time. No exception. Their batting average circa 2007, at least, was .000.

    Now it’s these very same Harvard researchers — Walter Willett and his colleagues — who have authored this new article claiming that red meat and processed meat consumption is deadly; that eating it regularly raises our risk of dying prematurely and contracting a host of chronic diseases.”

    Think maybe they’ve gotten something right for once?

    • There is no doubt that Willet et al played a large part in turning the FDA on this issue. But, hey, the law of averages demands that they ultimately be right on one. Although Willet et al have gotten all the publicity on this issue, the real scientific brains behind it are Fred Kummarow and Mary Enig, both of whom have been staunch advocates of removing trans fats from the food supply. Willet et al more or less piggybacked onto their efforts.

      • Nobody wants to defend trans-fat but I am not sure that there really is much evidence — genuinely not sure. I would love to see good data. Remember that what is meant by trans-fat is a modified form of unsaturated fat that has some trans-fatty acid. So, the trans-FA is a small part of the food which is supposed to be correlated with CVD. Remember the same group found benefit in trans-palmitoleic because of an inverse correlation with something or other but when you looked at the dat the trans-POA was less than 1 % of total fat and there was a direct correlation with the total fat. So it was actually total fat that was giving benefit. The real reason for getting rid of trans-fat and the real guide for what to replace it with is logic. I know you like logic problems, Mike, so:
        Trans-fat was instituted to replace SF which was thought to be bad.
        SF was found not to be bad.
        Trans-fat is at least suspected of being bad.
        What is the logical conclusion?

        • To me the logical conclusion is to replace the trans fats with the saturated fats they replaced. The saturated fat now found not to be bad.

          As far as evidence on trans fats, search kummarow FA on PubMed. He’s at Univ of Ill and has done most of the work on the problems with trans fats. I’m not crazy about data that all originates from one source because the confirmation bias is too strong. But Kummarow has done a ton of research on trans fats over the past 50+ years.

  2. Transfat may be bad for the body Doc but I am of the belief that we as humans, and not just in “free” nations but all nations, should have the choice to do as we choose to ourselves as long as we don’t take anyone else down with us. (you want to kill yourself that is your right, I dont have to agree with it I just have to respect your right to do so). I don’t agree with smoking but I think individuals should have the right to smoke (and the government doesn’t have the right to try to tax smoking out of existence) as long as they don’t force others to do it or they don’t blow it in others faces. So I don’t think the government should do anymore than “inform” people, no banning or trying to tax things out of existence. But as for informing us the government usually does a pretty poor job of giving us unbiased information. Just look at the food pyramid!
    So thank you for giving us the unbiased, true fact based, information about foods and our health. And even showing us both sides of the argument.

    • If you want to retain the right to walk into a pharmacy and buy a tub of trans-fat, I’m all for that. Enjoy.
      But if on the other hand you want food producers to retain the right to add transfats to meals and snacks, the argument doesn’t apply.
      Firstly, they are being sold in foods that aren’t labelled (e.g. a takeaway donut or fries in a restaurant), and labelling them properly would be a greater imposition than removing them.
      Secondly, they are being sold to people who either don’t and can’t read labels, or who are too busy to always read labels.
      Even I, buying next to no processed food, still find that reading labels slows me down, and that’s without having to check for transfat.
      Thirdly, the labelling itself is open to deception when ‘servings’ are used as a reference.

      When you go to buy cigarettes you go to buy cigarettes, expecting a hit of nicotine. When you go to buy crap, you’re not really looking for a hit of transfat.
      But maybe in future big communal binges of illicit trans-fats will become the way Tea Party members prove themselves, and DIY hydrogenation plants will spring up like meth labs.

      • “…and labeling them properly would be a greater imposition than removing them.”

        Evidently not. Businesses, as you may not know, are motivated by profit – which means that they look for efficiencies wherever possible. Evidently they’ve determined that it’s better for sales to keep trans fats (either because they enhance taste, or preserve taste long – thus preventing spoilage and waste, or they’re cheaper than other fats, whatever), than it is to label them (which, theoretically at least, would induce all of those people who avoid processed foods because they’re afraid of trans fats to start buying those which they know don’t have them). The point is that it quite literally none of your business.

        It “slows you down” to read labels. Too bad. Again, it’s none of your business. If you don’t like the fact that some industry, or company, or brand, or mom and pop shop doesn’t provide you – up front or even after you ask – with the information that you desire, DON’T BUY THEIR GOODS.

        We’re not talking about people saying one thing and doing another. We’re talking about people not saying anything (which means that they’re really saying that they could be selling anything) – and your wishes don’t trump their rights to keep their mouths shut (just like their wish to feed you a doughnut doesn’t trump your right to keep yours closed so they can’t feed you one because they won’t first tell you what’s in it).

  3. I recently checked out of curiosity the ingredients in Crisco – it looks like now they have it reformulated – it contains mostly fully hydrogenated palm oil and only traces of partially hydrogenated soybean oil (<2%). The same picture with peanut butter. I don't plan to use it. Probably, manufactures reacted first on a customer demand, then regulations were changed. Probably in couple years they would use in all junk baking goods coconut oil, and we would be complaining about prices for coconut products going through the roof.

    • Am on the road right now, dictating this reply to MD, so I can’t check my sources to be absolutely certain, but I am pretty sure that fully hydrogenated palm oil is stearic acid, the saturated fat found in red meat. In which case, that would make Crisco almost a good product. We could call it red meat fat in a can!

  4. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the press mention the vegetarian sympathies of the CSPI. Ever.

    If fully-hydrogenated oils are truly free of trans-fats, great. I’m also pleased to see more high-oleic vegetable oils showing up. It’s great to see sunflower oil with 12 grams of monounsaturated fat per serving rather than nearly that much omega-6.

    • Fully hydrogenated would mean to me a saturated fat. The definition of a saturated fat is one in which all the bonds available for hydrogen are occupied by hydrogen atoms, making the fat saturated with hydrogen. In other words, there is no room for more hydrogens because the molecule in question is fully saturated.

      • At my husband’s workplace they hired a company which was supposed to educate employees how to change their life-style to the more healthy one. There is a lot of conventional low-carb medical advice, and recipes for diabetics with bans baked with yams and fruit tarts. Recently they sent a letter about healthy fats, they advised them to choose fully hydrogenated fats over partially hydrogenated ones. Saturated fats are fully hydrogenated by nature, so they basically advocate nowadays to eat saturated fat calling it with different name.

      • Palm oil is only about half saturated fat, most of which is palmitic acid. The name palmitic actually comes from the fact that it’s prevalent in palm oil. One tablespoon has about 7 grams of SFA, 5 grams of MUFA and a gram and a half of PUFA.

        So that means that only half of the fat in palm oil is naturally fully saturated. The other half needs to be hydrogenated in order to make the the product shelf stable and, therefore, profitable.

        So even if Crisco were healthy (it’s not) we’d still hear about how it has TOO MUCH SATURATED FAT and that’s why it should be avoided. I think I’ll pass.

  5. Doc,
    With your reply to that last comment,
    Now I AM worried about your , “dont worry” about banning actual food 🙂

    REALLY glad to have you back.
    Keep it going please.

    Marc

  6. I just KNEW your blog this week would be about the announcement that pretty much EVERYONE in the world needs to be on statins. I guess that one’s coming?

    • I contemplated doing a post on the new guidelines, but everyone and his uncle has already addressed the issue. The guidelines suck, and the mainstream media have already pointed that out. Even some of the authors of the guidelines are crawfishing. So, not much to be gained by a post adding my voice to the rest when all I’m going to do is say the same thing.

      I’ve gotten a bunch of emails and tweets about the ‘ban’ on trans fats, though, and since that event was lost in all the noise about the new guidelines, I figured I would address it instead.

  7. Label stuff, yeah. But let me kill myself any way I wish. It’s none of anyone’s business, most especially the government’s.

    As to restaurant meals and such that we have no control over — isn’t that the idea? To have a meal that we need not worry about? If you’re gonna worry what’s in it — don’t eat out.

    • I don’t agree – I’d like to be able to eat out so that I can get a meal I didn’t have to fix, not because I don’t worry about the health implications. In fact, I have no choice but to cook every single meal if I want to eat wholesome food (and feed my family wholesome food), and that is really tiresome. I don’t actually enjoy cooking, it’s just something I’m forced to do.

      • You’re forced to cook. Give me a break. By your logic, every time you cook at home, other people – restaurant goers – are forced to pay more for food (because you’re not there to ad to the economies of scale). Or the restaurants themselves are forced to downgrade to cheaper table cloths, or furlough workers, or close altogether… all because you choose to stay home and cook. How dare you! There ought to be a law compelling you to go out to eat – for the good of the restaurant industry.

  8. Bloomie’s food police… no large sodas, no trans-fats, and of course no guns… neutered thinking, sheeple accept the dictates. Avoided anything hydrogenated since reading about the negatives nearly 40 years ago (think it was some magazine article) but also avoid the high-carb diets of many. Like my meat (and fish, chicken) and eggs! 167 cholesterol male who recalls JFK! But still not sure I want the idiot government telling me what to do and not sure I will accept it much longer. (Susan’s ‘statin’ comment is right on… junk medicine and being pushed down our gullets!)

  9. I think we need to be more precise. “Saturated fat” is fat with a relatively high level of saturated fatty acids, like beef tallow which is 50 % SFA, the other main component is oleic acid, as in the Mediterranean diet. There are very few fats that have only SFA. Coconut oil is the exception but those are medium chain FA. Most naturally occurring fats have mixtures of FAs but you can make or isolate from natural source a fat that is all stearic acid (called tristearin or just stearin). It is not usually used in food because it is solid and hard but is used in manufacturing soap and other products. When vegetable oil is hydrogenated, some of the unsatured FAs are turned to saturated. The intermediate in the reaction can lead to side formation of trans-FA (‘trans” only applies to unsaturated FA).

    • Yep, agree. The notion that most fats are mixtures of fats not just one specific type of fat is almost always forgotten. Although a particular product is known for a specific type of fat, most are combinations. Olive oil is always thought of as a monounsaturated fat, and though MUFA predominates, olive oil contains a bunch of other fats as well. Same for the fat in beef and just about anything else.

  10. Here’s my hope for the best-case scenario (albeit a very unlikely one).

    Rather than leading to an eventual ban on saturated fat, maybe the publicity and discussion this proposal will generate will be the best thing that ever happened to saturated fat. (At least in the last 70 years or so.) If a lot of debate is stirred up over the safety of trans fats, it’ll come to the public’s attention that the reason the PHOs were initially introduced into the food supply was to replace the natural saturated fats, which had somehow overnight turned deadly/dangerous, causing heart attacks willy nilly even though they’d been consumed by healthy humans for millennia. (Not to mention the issue of the vegetable oil producers wanting to unload their glut of soy and corn oil, so they *had* to demonize the animal fats to create a market for these ersatz oils.)

    BUT .. if there’s buzz about ending the use of trans fats in our food supply, it would be hard to ignore the elephant in the room that is implied by removing PHOs from foods — that the “experts” got it wrong all those years ago, and in fact, saturated fats are *not* the problem. And someone, somewhere, is going to have to say so. Hopefully someone from “on high” at one of the following agencies or organizations: FDA, USDA, AHA, AND/ADA. (But then again, maybe to the layperson, that’s *not* implied. The spin that will likely and unfortunately emerge is not the exoneration of saturated fats, but that the trans are “just as bad.” Oy vey…)

    I don’t think we’ll ever get the uber-massive “mea culpa” I’m waiting for from the medical and nutritional establishments, but I’ll never give up waiting for it.

  11. I’m afraid that one of life’s disappointments is that when you finally get the bad guys cornered, they’re just pathetic like Saddam Hussain. They never break down on the stand like in those old Perry Mason mysteries. It is at least fun to watch them fumbling on statins.

  12. I’m still old enough to remember (memory not gone yet) when (my once beloved) Oreos were made with pure coconut oil. That was back when they still tasted like Oreos, not the hydrogenated dreck selling now that passes for Oreos.

    I’m all for the ban on trans fats. Bring back coconut oil, and refined coconut oil is ok too (since that’s what pre-partially hydrogenated oil baked goods were made of back then).

    Not that I even eat those baked goods anymore, but I agree that artificial trans fats just have to go.

  13. P.S. I’ll add that coconut oil gives a marvelous texture to baked goods that just can’t be matched by hydrogenated oils, hence my fond memories of the original Oreos.

    Unfortunately, once coconut oil/palm oils come back into baked goods, they will taste so much better, folks may start binging on carbs again! We just can’t win!

  14. The FDA, etc. may admit that, in general, saturated fats are not harmful only when they admit, in some cases, that just because a specific saturated fatty acid might result in higher LDL cholesterol levels, that specific fatty acid may not necessarily be harmful. For them to make this admission, they must first admit that LDL cholesterol is not “bad” and higher levels of LDL levels with a change in diet could be beneficial.

    I think I may be an example that such a change in LDL level could be beneficial. I went on a high-fat low-carb diet in 2005. Before my change my triglycerides were approaching 300 and my HDL cholesterol was below 40. My LDL levels were good. After going on this diet my triglycerides were near 100 and my HDL level was about 60. But now my total cholesterol level was near 400. I am now 75 years old and my health is much improved.

  15. Even IF the formerly demonized animal fats such as beef tallow and lard regain favor the favor of the omnivorous public, I doubt that fast and fast-casual restaurants and major food manufacturers will return en masse to traditional and tastier fats; it would be too much of a hassle now that vegetarians and vegans make up a much larger % of the customer base.

    • I dunno. We can always hope. Especially since the trans fats were a way to make vegetable fats act like the saturated fats folks have been cooking with for years, it may be easier to just go back, vegetarians be damned.

  16. I have often wondered why there is twice as much Crisco shortening as lard on the grocery shelves when we supposedly know trans fats are bad. The anti saturated fat dogma is strong. All my new and old cook books all seem to ask for shortening.

    If science continues to successfully trash fructose, is a ban on HFCS possible? The European fructose approval decision not withstanding.

  17. Thank you so much for blog; your wisdom and fearlessness in writing about what is right and true is a gift. Keep them comin’!

  18. I guess I’m one of those screaming Libertarians.

    Politicians have NO business regulating something about which they KNOW LESS THAN NOTHING, even if the “law of averages” means that they are occasionally right.

    Think “stopped clock.” Just because it’s right twice a day does not mean it’s useful in any way.

  19. I remember when everything had coconut oil and palm oil instead of PHO. Hopefully they’ll just go back to using that. Hopefully coconut oil will become a gateway fat for fat-phobic, statin-happy doctors to learn acceptance of saturated fat.

  20. The only day that we will have human studies worth a damn is when we can map a human to a computer and run simulations. Then we can run billions of billions of simulations simultaneously and see what makes them be the healthiest. I can’t see how it wouldn’t be possible; it might be a 100 years from now though :/ . In my humble opinion: too many people doing research in the labs (bright brains wasted on menial lab labor), not enough scientists engineering new ways to do research.

    This reply is a bit random and could have been replied to any of your post. I’m glad of your work, Dr. Eades, towards educating people. Things are very slowly a-changin’. If only the people in charge would listen and dare to act.

  21. Since trans fats as additives have been around so long the FDA should make the case in PSA’s for their elimination. Paraphrasing Ben Franklin: Citizens who give up essential liberty for temporary safety do not deserve liberty or safety. Every loss of liberty is a step on a slippery slope to tyranny.

  22. Hi,

    I looked briefly at Kummarow’s work, and it all seems to be about distant markers. Is there any real proof that trans fats are bad? Intervention studies? Looking at mortality? It would ideally be on humans, but that is certainly too much to ask for.

    I know there is some epidemiology, but all I saw was very weak (even for epidemiology). And as Peter often writes, we also know that you can break your mouse (one specific type of mouse) by feeding it Crisco. But what about humans, or even other omnivorous mammals?

    Can you please point us to some real evidence that trans fat are bad?

    Thanks,

    Valerie

    PS: Your acronyms must make us all francophones smile: “GRAS” means “fat” and “PHO” (faux) means “fake”. 🙂

      • Well, I read it, and there is no evidence that trans fats are bad (morbidity- or mortality-wise). All he talks about is very weak epidemiology and some possibly adverse effects on distant health markers.

        So my question remains: is there any evidence that trans fats increase morbidity or mortality in humans?

        • Just as there is no way to establish the effects of saturated fat, low-carb diets, high-carb diets, etc. on all-cause mortality on humans, the same is true of trans fats. The studies would be too long, too cumbersome and too expensive. So no one can say for sure. There are animal studies out there (you can find them on PubMed) showing detrimental effects on health and longevity. It is known that the human body (as well as other mammalian bodies) process trans fats differently than, say, saturated fats. And I’ve never read a paper showing that the way trans fats are processed would improve health. I have a number of older studies on trans fats but don’t have the time or inclination to dig them up and paw through them right now. I’m persuaded based on my years of reading on the subject – perhaps you should do the same. Maybe you’ll come to a different conclusion. As for me, I avoid trans fats as much as I can.

  23. I’m not feeling that the government is going to ban anything that their real constituencies — grain growers and the US food manufacturing establishment — will scream about. However, anyone concerned about their health and trans fats can abstain from eating packaged foods and can avoid fried foods at restaurants.

    At our house we’ve learned how wonderful frying is if we use coconut oil. In itself it’s tasty, but it also browns well and doesn’t burn like butter. Pans in which we’ve used coconut oil usually can be wiped out using paper towels, and won’t stick the next time we use them.

  24. The “catalyst” program points out the defunding of NIH research as a factor in shifting funding to private companies, mostly drug makers, leading to corruption of research goals. But, many, like me and perhaps you as well, have an aversion to government involvement in research, since government is certainly not immune to outside influences or pressuring. Maybe it would be better for us all if a private yet non-commercial or non-profit organization could be founded that would be able to jury drug and nutritional research impartially and make it’s reviews and opinions available as a service to humanity. Or is it too idealistic of an idea to hope for? It would be a watchdog group, similar to Good Housekeeping, or maybe UL ?

    • I agree. I’ve had extensive dealings with UL with our sous vide products. They are expensive, a pain in the rear and bureaucratic, but the expense, pain in the rear and bureaucracy are a drop in the bucket compared to dealings I’ve had with actual government bureaucracies. At least with UL you get contacted back, there is someone to talk to, and you can figure out where you are in the process. Try that with any kind of approval effort in a federal bureaucracy. They say, send us your application, and you’ll hear back from us when you hear back from us.

  25. Just to clear that supposition up for you Dr. Eades, you are most definitely NOT a libertarian. I’m a huge fan of your work, and despite all that you have to say about trans fats being bad for one’s health (of which, as a layman at least, I agree completely), it doesn’t change the fact that the FDA’s past, present, and future actions regarding them are all unequivocally wrong.

    Who are you, the FDA, or anyone else calling themselves the “general public” (so they they may regard such things) to decide for me what I, an individual, generally regard as safe? If trans fats are not GRAS, or if they are a food, or an additive, or as bad as drinking mercury, I should have the right to put them in my body (and someone else should have the right to facilitate that by selling them to me). The only role the government has in that situation is making sure that no one is lying.

    I agree with you that it’s silly that the FDA allows foods that have <.5 grams of trans fat be claimed as trans fat free, but that just goes to show you how corrupt the centralization of judgement can become. Instead of one or a few people deciding to ignore something (or be lied to about something about one or a few dishonest producers), everyone has to be mislead. Legally!

    The whole idea of the government regulating foods, or food additives, or anything else really, is circular. It starts with the premise that the consumer, not being an expert, can't know what he's really being sold. That his relative lack of knowledge puts him at an unassailable disadvantage. From there public officials take over. Publically elected public officials! What this means is that regular people, who know nothing about particular sciences and industries, elect other people who also don't necessarily know anything more about them – but who are allegedly better judges of character than the people who judged their character by giving them political power. These people – politicians – then judge the arguments of various experts (deserving that title or not), and then pick those that they think are correct to become the regulators (or, at least, to create the regulations).

    Let's say that the determination that <.5 grams is scientifically valid (ie: that it's tantamount to non-existent). Let's also say that the presence of that small amount is unavoidable in the manufacturing process (like the famous example of rat feces in peanut butter). Why is it any easier for a politician to hear the arguments of a given expert who has investigated the issue and come to those conclusions than it is for me as an active-minded consumer to do so? At least I get to find out what's really happening if I really want to, instead of having some politician – via his regulator – decide for me that <.5 grams of trans fat in a food is so small that it's effectively non-existence. Talk about a lack of informed consent! Talk about fraud! Precisely what the regulations were ironically put in place to prevent!

    The machinations of the FDA in this issue should be immediately stopped, the institution should be abolished forthwith, and the process of certifying the quality and contents of food should be turned over to private organizations such as Consumer Reports and UL. Concerned consumers will look for those endorsements, and unconcerned consumers won't (because, after all, in a free country not everyone has to value the best health possible – at the cost of things like taste or price – simple because the majority, some agency, or a politician thinks everyone should).

    • How about the children of the unconcerned consumers? And how about the children in school lunch programs? Even most concerned parents don’t know that the nutritional guidelines basically force these children to consume trans fats, unless, of course, they are rebranded as non-GRAS. I don’t give a rat’s ass about what adults to themselves – as long as I don’t have to pay for their folly later (which I always do because I can’t let them die on the street). But I do care for those who haven’t become old enough to make these decisions on their own.

      • The issue of children is a complex legal question. It’s difficult to discern where the rights of parents or guardians end and the rights of children begin, but the principle remains the same: people should be able to do whatever they want provided that what they want to do doesn’t interfere with the rights of other people to also do whatever they want. I can see, and I would seriously listen to, arguments that feeding children certain foods and diets is tantamount to child abuse.

        As for the interconnected issues of government-run schools, and government-run food programs, and government-endorsed and favored diet plans, and government-mandated “free” health care for people: those are all shining examples of what happens when people don’t (demand their elected leaders) follow libertarian principles. Further violating those principles – by banning trans fats (or food additives, or whatever) – isn’t going to make anything any better. It was a gradual, incremental erosion of our principles that brought us to this mess (heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if most business people – out of a desire to meet public demand and make a profit – would like to remove trans fats, but it’s just too expensive in the short-term, and because of onerous taxes and regulations there’s no place else to save money) …and it will only be a gradual reestablishment of them that will get us out of it.

        • I agree about the gradual and incremental erosion of principles and freedoms that got us in this mess, but we’re here, and I think we’ve got to gradually and incrementally get out. But not at the expense of children and others who had no blame in getting us into the mess.

      • Removing trans fats from school lunch programs doesn’t require removing them from the GRAS list. Many districts have already removed trans fats.

        http://www.schoolnutrition.org/Content.aspx?id=7766

        I do not share your optimism that trans fats will be replaced with saturated fats, especially in school lunch programs. I think it’s far more likely that they will be replaced with grains, and in fact I believe that’s already happened to a large extent. I’m not convinced that’s an improvement.