Food avoidance has become a way of life for millions of American consumers of all ages. For consumers with allergies and intolerances, avoiding certain food and ingredients is a matter of life and death. But for other consumers avoiding various foods is a matter of choice based on a desire to lose weight or to have an overall healthier life.
On June 16, FDA announced it had finalized its determination that partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), the primary food manufacturing source of trans fats, are not “generally recognized as safe" (GRAS) for foods, giving food and beverages manufacturers three years to remove them entirely from food products.
FDA is essentially banning trans fats in food products, and the “no trans fats" label on food products will become obsolete. Naturally occurring trans fats found in small amounts in some meat and dairy products are not additives and a special case, and they do not fall under the ban.
Since 2006, the FDA has mandated that nutritional labels on foods specify the level of trans fat content. In November 2013, FDA announced its intention to accelerate the elimination of PHOs from the U.S. food supply, having provisionally made the determination that these trans fats carriers are not GRAS. The intensifying glare of regulatory attention on trans fats has already spurred extensive reformulation in the food market, such that trans fat has been reduced by 78 percent since 2003, according to an FDA estimate, and by 86 percent according to the GMA. Nevertheless, partially hydrogenated oils are still commonly used in many popular food products, including crackers, cookies, cakes, frozen pies and other baked goods; snack foods (such as microwave popcorn); frozen pizza; vegetable shortenings and stick margarines; coffee creamers; refrigerated dough products (such as biscuits and cinnamon rolls); and ready-to-use frostings. Moreover, FDA regulation previously allowed less than a half gram of trans fats to be labeled as “0g," such that zero didn’t mean what consumers would logically interpret it to mean. That loophole, too, is closing.
In terms of consumer confidence, the mainstream food industry has paid a price for foot-dragging and sleight-of-hand on nutritional and labeling issues, leading to consumer counter-revolutions including the current clean label movement. According to Packaged Facts’ report, “Food Formulation Trends: Ingredients Consumers Avoid", 23 percent of U.S. adults strongly agreeing and 38 percent somewhat agreeing that “grocery manufacturers often mislead by highlighting only the positive nutritional qualities in their products, not the negative ones." Only 3 percent strongly disagree and only 6 percent somewhat disagree.
With voluntary removal of partially hydrogenated oils by the food industry extensive but incomplete, the FDA is now bringing down the curtain and implementing a long-expected banan important milestone in the share of stomach battleground between whole, natural foods and ingredients on one side and highly processed food products and artificial ingredients on the other. The market needs and supports both, and virtually every player in the food industry and virtually every consumer shopping in the supermarket has a foot in both camps, so there will be no final takedowns.