US FDA to phase out trans fats from food on health concerns

Declaring a war of trans fats, the US Food and Drug Administration said yesterday, it would require food makers to gradually phase out artificial trans fats - the ingredient found in crackers, cookies, pizza and many other baked goods and which clogged arteries.

According to FDA commissioner, Margaret Hamburg, the change could potentially prevent 20,000 heart attacks a year and 7,000 deaths.

She said at a press conference that while the amount of trans fats consumed in the US had dropped dramatically over the last decade, they still remained and area of significant health concern.

According to Michael Taylor, FDA's deputy commissioner for foods, the FDA had not yet set a time table for sweeping trans fats from the market. He added the agency wanted to do it in a way that did not unduly disrupt markets.

He said still, the "industry has demonstrated that it is by and large feasible to do."

Trans fats have been considered harmful due to the associated heart disease risk as they increase risks for heart disease by both increasing bad cholesterol levels (LDL) and lowering good cholesterol (HDL).

Manufacturers were required by the FDA in 2006 to include trans fats on nutritional labels and in 2007, New York City banned trans fats from restaurants in a bid to combat obesity. (See: New York bans fats in restaurants menus).

Food marketers have been phasing out trans-fats-fin recent years with McDonald's switching to zero-trans fat cooking oil in its iconic french fries in 2008.

A 2010 study by University of Minnesota School of Public Health found that fast-food joints including had cut down on trans-fat and saturated fat content in their foodstuffs (See: McDonald's, Burger King cut down on fat: study).

Manufacturers had already eliminated many trans fats, in response to criticism from the medical community and to local laws, but even so the FDA said getting rid of the rest, the average American still consumed a gram of trans fat a day - could prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths each year.

It would not happen right away, though and the agency would invite comments for two months before a phase out time table was determined. Different foods might have different schedules, depending how easy it was to find substitutes.

According to scientists, there were no health benefits to trans fats, and that they could increase the levels of "bad" cholesterol and lower "good" cholesterol, increasing the risk of heart disease, the leading cause of death in the US. Trans fats are considered the worst type for the heart, far worse than saturated fats, which too contributed to heart disease.