The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), in a long-telegraphed move, announced that partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), the main source of industrially produced trans fat, would be banned from the US food supply starting in June 2018. The FDA said, "PHOs are not generally recognized as safe due to their role in heart disease. Even very small quantities of trans fats can add up to dangerous levels and will not permit the ingredient without an exemption."
PHO's allow foods to remain solid at higher temperatures, provide texture to icings and other foods and have distinctive flavors that are desirable in fried foods. They can also help increase the shelf life of baked goods.
After the FDA released a preliminary version of the PHO ban in 2013, they came under heavy fire from the processed food industry, including the Popcorn Institute, the National Frozen Pizza Institute and the International Chewing Gum Association, which called the plan to be misguided and overly broad. Some commentators said that the ban would boost use of likewise unhealthy substitutes high in saturated fats. Critics even linked the production of one PHO substitute, palm oil, to deforestation. General Mills, ConAgra and other manufacturers sought unsuccessfully to persuade the FDA to impose very low caps on PHOs, rather than a total ban.
General Mills and Conagra Foods had cited significant technical challenges in replacing PHOs for certain items for which there are few or no suitable alternatives, such as tailored shortenings used in pastries, cakes and icings. They complained that PHOs were an ingredient that has been safely and commonly used in food for over 50 years. However, both companies accepted this week's FDA announcement.
A General Mills spokeswoman said, "We have already removed trans fats from a great many products. While the work remains challenging, we are striving to remove trans fats from all of our products across the board."
A ConAgra spokeswoman said, "We pride ourselves on making high-quality, wholesome foods. We began our transition away from partially hydrogenated oils years ago and we will continue to work diligently to comply with FDA's final determination."
The Jarosch Bakery that has been supplying goodies for more than 50 years, winning special renown for its butter cream frosting and for butter cookies with an extra tender texture, faces an uncertain future after the ban on PHOs. Kenneth Jarosch said, "It will certainly cost us some money to reformulate. It will have an effect on the taste and texture and that's what we're all about. And that's what distinguishes us from Walmart and Costco and, if that goes down the drain, we're going to be in a world of hurt."
Some food makers are holding out hope for FDA exemptions. At Jarosch Bakery, an exemption could permit the use of cupcake sprinkles that contain trans fats. Jarosch said, "What kind of ticks me off about the whole legislation is I think it should be up to the customer to decide. I would have been in favor of us having to post stickers that say 'eating this could be hazardous to your health' and letting the customers decide. Cigarettes are still legal and yet trans fats or shortenings are illegal. Go figure."