Artificial trans fats targeted by FDA

Published on: Nov 8, 2013

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has made a preliminary determination that partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), the primary dietary source of artificial trans fat in processed foods, are not “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) for use in food. A final decision would mean that the use of these oils in the food supply would be phased out over a number of years.  

FDA said removal of PHOs from the food supply could prevent up to 7,000 deaths from heart disease each year.

FDA has required industry to declare the amount of trans fat in food on the Nutrition Facts label since 2006.  FDA data indicate that many processed foods have been reformulated to reduce the amount of trans fat since the requirement was instituted, but a substantial number of products still contain PHOs.

If, after reviewing comments received, FDA determines that PHOs are not GRAS, PHOs could not be used in foods unless authorized by a regulation.

  • As discussed in more detail in the Federal Register notice, during the 60-day public comment period, FDA is seeking data and information on a number of issues, including:
  • Whether FDA should finalize its tentative determination that PHOs are no longer GRAS; and
  • How long it would take producers to reformulate food products to eliminate PHOs.
  • The comment and submission period starts November 8, 2013.

Currently, in order to preserve soybean oil for cooking, manufacturers use a process called hydrogenation, which is what creates the trans fats. Oils with high levels of oleic acid, like olive oil, are able to be preserved for much longer without having to add trans fats.

In a statement from the American Soybean Assn., according to the FDA’s own analysis, average consumer consumption of trans fats has fallen by more than 70% in the past decade. "We’ve replaced the functional characteristics that some baking and frying applications needed from partially hydrogenated oils through blending of various oils, the blending of fully hydrogenated soybean oil (which does not contain any trans fats) with liquid soybean and other oils, and other processes that reduce or eliminate trans fats," said Danny Murphy, ASA president.

Researchers at the University of Missouri have been working for years to create healthy alternatives to trans fats and say they have found a way to create soybean oil that has no trans fats. Grover Shannon, a professor of plant sciences in the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, along with Kristin Bilyeu, an MU plant sciences adjunct assistant professor and USDA molecular biologist, has found a naturally occurring gene in soybeans that, when combined with another natural gene, increases the amount of oleic acid in the oil from 20% to 80%.

“By raising the levels of oleic acid in soybean oil, we can effectively create a healthy alternative to foods with trans fats,” Shannon said. “We are working with researchers around the country to begin growing these healthier soybeans and get the soybean oil into the market as soon as we can.”

The MU researchers are using classical plant breeding techniques to “endow” their soy lines with these two genes. This approach could make these soybeans more marketable to countries that resist buying genetically-modified foods.

Shannon hopes the first crops of these healthier soybeans will be available in 2014, with plans to expand production in the next few years. Currently, he and Bilyeu are working on increasing the crop yields of these healthier soybeans so that farmers are able and willing to grow them.