FDA Finally Does Something Right (Right?)

We’ll be back with more water talk soon, but first, we had to cover some breaking news:

The FDA has banned trans fats. Kind of.

Only 104 years after trans fats were introduced into the food supply, the FDA finally determined that whoops, looks like trans fats aren’t so great after all! The agency claims that 7,000 deaths a year will be prevented by the elimination of trans fats.

But the FDA didn’t really reach this conclusion all on their own, either. In fact, one single man spurred the agency into action.

Let’s take a brief trip into the history of trans fats and see how long it took to get to where we are today.


The year is 1911, and Procter & Gamble just got patent rights to Crisco — the first mass-marketed source of partially hydrogenated oil (trans fat). Crisco was advertised as the “clean and healthy” alternative to lard and butter, and housewives bought it up.

By the 1980s, the health concerns with these oils started emerging, linking them to an increased risk of heart disease.

In 1994, the Center for Science in the Public Interest petitioned the FDA to require that trans fats be listed on the label.

The FDA listened, and eight years later instilled the labeling requirement. (That was in 2006 — four years after the Institute of Medicine found that there was “no safe level of trans fatty acids and people should eat as little of them as possible.”)

Then steps in the man behind the ban.

In 2009, Fred Kummerow, a professor from the University of Illinois, petitioned the agency requesting that they ban partially hydrogenated fats. His 3,000-word petition cited all of the evidence pointing to their dangers, including his own research.

Back in the 1950s, Kummerow found high levels of artificial trans fats in the arteries of people who had died from heart disease. He then conducted a rat study and found that when they were fed trans fat, they developed atherosclerosis. But when the trans fats were taken out of their diet, their arteries became clear and healthy again.

Jump back to 2013. After hearing nothing from the FDA for four years, Kummerow sued the FDA. His suit required the agency to respond to his petition to ban partially hydrogenated oils, unless the FDA could find new evidence of their safety.

On Tuesday, June 16, 2015, the FDA finally announced that trans fats are not generally recognized as safe (GRAS) and manufacturers have three years to reformulate their products or petition the agency for an exemption to continue using partially hydrogenated oils in their products. So, it’s really a “kind-of” ban.

Many people are ecstatic about the ban. Finally, the FDA (kind of) did something right! Those were my first thoughts as well.

After all, not everyone knows the dangers of trans fats and knows to avoid them. I think about the lower-income children that have access only to prepackaged or junk foods, either because their parents can’t afford or don’t care enough to buy fresh foods. In my mind, this trans fat ban is for them.

But there’s also a more sinister side to the ban — yet another example of government control and regulation. Why should the government tell me what I can or can’t put in my own body?

I’ll let Nate step in for a moment, as he usually has some… ah… strong feelings on the subject:

Nate: I suppose that’s my cue to play bad cop.

So the FDA has decided trans fats are not “generally recognized as safe.”

Ironic, considering the FDA itself shouldn’t be recognized as safe.

Those despicable human garbage bags have given the green light on prescription drugs shown in experiments to raise the risk of suicide with hardly any benefit for the innocent men and women who take their doses and survive. I’m referring, specifically, to Tamiflu. Laissez Faire Today’s Chris Campbell already reamed these monsters for that, so I’ll just politely link to it.

I won’t even get into Bextra or Vioxx. Suffice to say the FDA should hang its head in shame.

And be disbanded.

After paying off billions in restitution to the innocent people they’ve harmed.

The reason why… is not so simple.

I won’t go into huge detail, but it relates to a concept called “moral hazard.”

Moral hazard is when a person takes more risks because someone else bears the burden of those risks. A close cousin of this idea is when a person gets lazy because he or she thinks someone else is bearing the burden of safety.

Like… say… someone getting an adjustable-rate mortgage. That couldn’t possibly go wrong because the industry is so regulated, right?

Or… hmmm… Social Security. If you’re an employee, you never even touch the money that gets forced into it, and I’m sure that system will do fine in the coming decades because great people are keeping an eye on it. Keeps up with inflation too… right?

Aha! Medicine. You can just take your doctor’s prescription because it’s been tested and inspected by really ethical, intelligent government types…

As you can probably see, all of the above have led to disaster. Even though they’re highly regulated by the government.

I wish I had more time to devote to this, because it’s the crux of why something so counterintuitive (less oversight for something so important) is actually the safest policy.

The fact is when people know danger’s afoot, their guard will be up. Then private industry can step in and vet companies and make good money doing so. That’s why the non-GMO food niche is worth billions of dollars… and growing, without the help of laws or regulations. Crony capitalism (better phrase is crony collectivism) may have given rise to Monsanto, but real capitalism will destroy it. Same with trans fats.

In fact, we’re already eating less, as shown in a recent study. And the whole reason there was even a demand for trans fats in the first place? Government demonizing of natural animal fats.

Gee, thanks.

How nice of them to create a restriction to solve a problem they invented. Makes me wonder: If they banned cholesterol a couple decades ago because they thought it was so bad, would eggs still be illegal today?

So what about children who end up saddled with a diet of prepackaged, processed meals? We can only truly improve their health by banning or restricting sales of sugar, flour, and gluten, forcing them to exercise… see where I’m going with this?

To sum up what will certainly not be my last wild tangent: The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

And the road to hundreds of thousands of innocent people getting killed by drugs while millions are trained into a state of learned helplessness… is paved by wanting “just some common-sense safety standards.”

As you can see, I like to end on a cheerful note.

And we’d love to hear your opinion on the subject. What do you think of the FDA’s actions? Is Jasmine too much of a Pollyanna? Is Nate too cynical? Want to hear us argue more? Write us at livingwelldaily@lfb.org

Whatever you believe, the FDA’s actions will not take full effect for another three years. This means, for the next 36 months, you could still be eating trans fat. So you have to be on the lookout.

Don’t rely on the Nutrition Facts panel. You need to look at the ingredient list. There’s a labelling loophole that allow companies to label their product as having zero grams of trans fat if it contains less than half a gram of trans fat per serving.

Look for the words “partially hydrogenated” or “shortening” on the ingredients list. If they are on the label, the product contains trans fat, even if the Nutrition Facts read “0.” Also be wary of “hydrogenated oils.” Though fully hydrogenated oil does not contain trans fats, there’s always the chance the label is incorrect and missing the “partially.”

Assume that all baked or fried foods contain partially hydrogenated oil unless the label says otherwise. Pastries, pie crusts, anything fried in oil is suspect. (But you know better than to eat that stuff anyway, right?)

Until next time,

Jasmine LeMaster and Nate Rifkin

P.S. Don’t forget to write in with your opinion on the trans fat controversy at livingwelldaily@lfb.org


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