FDA Proposes Restrictions that Would Essentially Ban the Use of Trans Fats

By Kim Smiley

On November 7, 2013, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed reclassifying trans fats so that they would no longer be “generally recognized as safe.”  This move would essentially eliminate the use of trans fats because companies would need to prove that they are harmless before adding any to food products.  This hurdle would likely be impossible to jump since current research shows that trans fats are the least healthy fat and contribute significantly to heart disease in the US.  In fact, it’s estimated that the increased restrictions on trans fat proposed by the FDA would prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths from heart disease each year.

Trans fats are an especially dangerous form of fat because they raise the levels of “bad” cholesterol, while also lowering the “good” cholesterol.  This double whammy significantly increases the likelihood of heart disease. One of the interesting twists in the history of trans fat is that its rise to popularity was partly fueled by a belief that it was a healthy alternative because it was manufactured from plants, unlike traditional saturated animal fat like butter or lard.    Trans fats were also cheaper, increased product shelf life and were kosher.   From the 1950s until recently, trans fats were widely used in a variety of processed foods.

Things began to change in 2003 as more and more research showed that trans fats were less healthy than initially thought and the FDA added a requirement that artificial trans fats be listed separately on food labels.  Manufacturers begin to shift away from the use of trans fats after their visibility was increased and the public became more aware of the dangers of trans fat.  The shift away from the use of Trans fats has already dramatically impacted the American diet.  In 2006, Americans consumed an average of 4.6 grams of trans fats daily which decreased to about 1 gram in 2012.  Food manufacturers are not predicted to fight the new FDA proposal too aggressively since so many have already voluntarily reduced the use of trans fats.  Additionally, no company wants to be associated with the negative publicity surrounding trans fats.

The impacts of trans fats can be analyzed by building a Cause Map, a visual root cause analysis, which intuitively lays out causes that contribute to an issue to visually show the cause-and-effect relationships.  A Cause Map is built by determining how the overall goals are impacted by issues and then asking “why” questions to determine all the causes that contributed to the problem.  Click on “Download PDF” above to view a high level Cause Map of this issue and view a completed Outline.