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More pushback from industry over FDA trans-fat crackdown: Soybean industry has ‘grave concerns’, cardiologist says we should act now

By Elaine WATSON , 07-Apr-2014
Last updated the 05-Apr-2014 at 00:27 GMT

Revoking the GRAS status of partially hydrogenated oils will have
Revoking the GRAS status of partially hydrogenated oils will have "significant negative impacts on soybean farmers", claims the American Soybean Association. Picture: United Soybean Board

FDA proposals to revoke the GRAS status of partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) in order to crack down on trans fats will lead to increased saturated fat intakes, greater reliance on imported palm and canola oil and the “diminished ability for food manufacturers to adopt innovative technologies”, claims the American Soybean Association. 

In comments  filed in the docket responding to the proposed move, ASA President Ray Gaesser says oil from the next generation of high oleic soybeans could replace a “substantial portion” of 2-2.5bn lbs of PHOs still in the market, but the industry needs more time to ramp up supplies.

If firms have to ditch PHOs now, the ASA’s “grave concern” is that more “higher saturated fat palm oil” will replace “domestically-grown, sustainably-produced soybean oil”, having a “significant negative impacts on soybean farmers”, he says.

“The saturated fat profile of palm oil is 6.7g per tablespoon, compared to 2g for soybean oil. The result of this trade-off would be a ‘lose-lose’ for both the government and American consumers.”

(Click HERE  and HERE  to see what the palm oil industry has to say about this).

Soybean farmers say 4bn pounds of soybean oil has been removed from the US food supply in recent years as firms have switched to palm oil and canola oil in a bid to replace partially hydrogenated oils

‘Sweeping’ proposal could ‘stymie technological advances in oil processing that aren’t even envisioned today’

The ASA is also concerned that companies will be reluctant to use fully hydrogenated oils created via chemical or enzymatic interesterification “which results in virtually no trans fat” because consumers have been given the impression that ‘hydrogenation’ is bad thing, he adds.

“We believe this technology [interesterification], combined with high oleic soybean production, can replace partially hydrogenated oil use in the medium term.

“We believe that the FDA’s proposal is so sweeping in its application that it would stymie technological advances in oil processing that aren’t even envisioned today. As there is no definition of ‘partially hydrogenated’ and as we know that the term encompasses a whole spectrum of oils, we are concerned that new technologies would be a casualty of the FDA’s proposal.”

Instead, the FDA should consider alternative strategies such as education, revisions to the nutrition fact panel, and limits on the amount of trans fats that food products can contain to be labeled free of trans fats, he says. (Click HERE  to see what the GMA and member companies suggest.)

Cardiologist: Gram for gram, trans fats are more harmful than for any other macronutrient, including saturated fat

However, not everyone is convinced by the argument - raised by several other industry commentators as well as the ASA - that revoking the GRAS status of PHOs would lead to higher intakes of saturated fat.

Cardiologist Dr Dariush Mozaffarian says there is no 'safe' level of trans fat

Cardiologist Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, DrPH, from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, said: “Concerns have been raised that such approaches might increase use of saturated fat as a replacement; fail due to insufficient supply of appropriate replacement fats/oils; or reduce food availability, taste, or affordability.

“None of these concerns were realized in any setting in which TFA has been reduced. Indeed, all evidence indicates that mandated TFA-reformulations do not appreciably alter prices, sales, taste, or availability of foods.(Click HERE to read Dr Mozaffarian’s comments in full and HERE  for some research on this issue.)

“As a cardiologist, scientist, and public health professional with expertise in fatty acids and human health, I submit my strongest possible agreement with the proposed ruling…

“The evidence makes explicitly clear that such TFA, at any level of consumption, are recognized as quite harmful for coronary heart disease (CHD) and inflammation, and perhaps also for diabetes and obesity. Gram for gram, these effects are more harmful than for any other macronutrient, including saturated fat.

Click HERE to read all the comments in the docket (which has now closed).

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