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FDA fiddles, while Americans die. (

Trans fats promote heart disease. When liquid oils are made into a stick of margarine, a tub of Crisco, or the "partially hydrogenated" oils used to make hundreds of processed foods, the process creates trans fats, which clog arteries as effectively as the saturated fats that are found in meats, cheese, and whole milk.

That's why, in 1994, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (publisher of Nutrition Action Healthletter) petitioned the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to require that food labels include trans fat as part of the saturated fat number. (Labels currently include trans only as part of the total fat number.) And in 1999, the FDA agreed. It said that trans-fat labeling would save 2,000 to 5,000 lives a year at little cost. A victory for the public's health? Not quite.

As the Clinton Administration ended, the FDA was on the brink of finalizing the labeling rule, but didn't.

That gave an opening to the shortening and other industries, along with sympathetic Bush appointees at the FDA. They're throwing up one roadblock after another to sabotage the regulations. Among other things, they've complained that the proposed rules are based on inadequate science and flawed risk-benefit analyses, and that the rules would infringe on the industry's First Amendment right to commercial free speech. Two telling examples:

* The industry says that foods with two grams or less of trans fat per serving shouldn't have to list trans on the label, yet foods have to list as little as half a gram of saturated fat.

* The industry says that a food should be able to make a heart-healthy claim even if it contains four grams of trans plus saturated fat per serving, yet that's 20 percent of the recommended daily limit for heart-damaging fat.

Ordinarily, the FDA would consider the arguments, make a decision, and finalize the regulations. Now, officials say they have to issue a new proposed rule. But before that, they plan to perform a new risk-benefit analysis, conduct opinion research, and ask the National Academy of Sciences for advice on the science.

Last January, a New York Times editorial castigated the FDA for "foot-dragging on fat." I couldn't agree more. The bottom line for consumers: You won't see the word "trans" on most Nutrition Facts labels any sooner than 2007. Knowing that the delay means 2,000 to 5,000 deaths each year doesn't seem to bother the food industry or the government one whit.
Michael F. Jacobson, Ph.D.
Executive Director
Center for Science in the Public Interest
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Article Details
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Author:Jacobson, Michael F.
Publication:Nutrition Action Healthletter
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2002
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