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TRANS FATTY ACID LABELING

Food Labels: Will It Be Poison A, or Poison B, Sir?

Food Industry Wants to Mislead Consumers About Trans Fatty Acids

February 1, 2002

Let's say most people know that Poison A is bad for them.  They've known this for a long time.  So a food labeled "Contains No Poison A" will be enticing to consumers.

Now also assume that far fewer people know that Poison B is also harmful.  Most of them wouldn't even know to look for it on a label, and if they saw it there, might very well not know it's unhealthy.

Given the situation with Poison A and Poison B, what would you make of a food industry effort to allow it to claim "No Poison A" across the front of a food package, even if the food in question was loaded with Poison B? The presence of poison B would only be disclosed on the product's usually far smaller and less prominent food label.

Wouldn't the fair and logical course of action be, if the food industry wants to claim "No Poison A," to require equally prominent lettering right next to it that states "But Contains x Amount Poison B"?  This way, the consumer is well-informed, not misled.

Substitute cholesterol as Poison A, and trans fatty acids as Poison B, and you have the situation before the federal Food and Drug Administration.

Trans Fatty Acids: What Are They?

Trans fatty acids "are formed when vegetable oils are hardened into margarine and into the shortening used in baked goods or other processed foods."

Why are they a poison?  Because trans fatty acids can seriously raise a person's overall cholesterol levels.  Worse, the way they do so is to "raise LDL ('bad') cholesterol and lower HDL ('good') cholesterol."

Trans Fatty Acids: The Current Impasse

It's been three years since the FDA proposed requiring food manufacturers to include the amount of trans fatty acids on food labels.  The food industry is engaging in typical stalling tactics.  Among other things, the industry is trying to ensure that it can "continue emblazoning the claim 'contains no cholesterol' on a tub of margarine containing a significant amount of artery-damaging trans fats." 

As noted above, sure, let them do that, but also require then to emblazon in equally prominent lettering "But contains x amount of trans fatty acids, which also increase your risk of coronary heart disease."

Trans Fatty Acids: The Tobacco Parallel

The whole situation brings to mind the tobacco industry and lung cancer.  For decades the tobacco industry denied smoking caused lung cancer, and then when they finally began to admit it, did everything they could to minimize damage to their tobacco sales.

Similarly, researchers four decades ago tried to bring to the public's attention the danger of trans fatty acids, but the food industry did its best to suppress that information.  Then when the proof became overwhelming, the food industry changed its tune, and began engaging in stalling and other tactics designed to keep their products selling.

Indeed, "contains no cholesterol" may be worse than "reduced tar and nicotine," because the latter still admits some of those poisons are in the product, but "contains no cholesterol" leads the unwary to believe that there is nothing else wrong with the product -- directly contrary to the serious danger posed by its abundant trans fatty acids.

Hey, FDA, stop wasting any more time on this, get the labeling requirements in effect, and go on to something else!

This was a selection from The Daily Diatribe

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