The recent Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decision to have trans fat removed from food within the next three years is causing a stir, but one supplier says it’s a necessary nudge in the right direction.
On Tuesday, the FDA announced that it had determined that partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), the primary dietary source of artificial trans fat in processed foods, are not “generally recognized as safe” or GRAS for use in human food. As a result, food manufacturers will have three years to remove PHOs from products.
The move allows companies to either reformulate products without PHOs and/or petition the FDA to permit specific uses of PHOs. Following the compliance period, no PHOs can be added to human food unless they are otherwise approved by the FDA. Such action follows a tentative decision made by the FDA in 2013, which also ruled that PHOs were no longer GRAS.
Public awareness of trans fats and their impact on health has increased. The FDA estimates that consumer trans fat consumption decreased about 78 percent between 2003 and 2012. But the agency’s decision could save lives by reducing coronary heart disease and prevent thousands of heart attacks a year, says Stephen Ostroff, M.D., acting commissioner, FDA.
“We’ve been in favor of a trans fat ban for many years now,” says Gerald McNeill, v.p. of research and development, IOI Loders Croklaan North America. As a company that specializes in providing sustainable and traceable palm oils for the food industry, IOI Loders Croklaan has good reason to support the FDA’s decision.
In 2006, it became required for companies to list the amount of trans fat in Nutrition Facts, which “generated a lot of interest in alternatives,” says McNeill.
But now, as partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), which are the main source of artificial trans fat in processed foods, have been officially booted off the “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) list for use in human food, that interest can only grow.
As McNeill explains, palm oil is the most versatile choice in replacing partially hydrogenated oils. And IOI Loders Croklaan is already generating 200 new products on palm oil. “We’re in a good position of substituting the remaining products.”
But it isn’t as easy to substitute PHOs with palm oil alternatives by industry efforts alone. Misinformation on the subject is common and can cause consumer confusion.
While trans fats are very unhealthy, some will go so far as to say saturated fats are not much better. But this simply isn’t true.
McNeill adds that in the UK, everyone is attacking palm oil left, right, and center. Yet the facts remain that saturated fat is ten times better than trans fat — in other words, 1g of trans fat equals 10g of saturated fat.
What’s more, according to a metadata study at University of Cambridge, saturated fat has a neutral effect on the body. That is, it raises bad cholesterol levels at the same rate as good cholesterol.
So, while palm oil’s health implications may continue to be debated, “transferring will have a significant reduction in heart disease,” asserts McNeill.
Another objection raised with regards to palm oil is sustainability and traceability. Many critics maintain that it’s a conflict-heavy product.
But many palm oil suppliers, like IOI Loders Croklaan, are part of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). The group works in conjunction with the Rainforest Alliance to ensure sustainability and social responsibility for the sourcing of its products. As of April, IOI Loders Croklaan North America had 95 percent traced palm kernel oil and 98 percent traced palm oil.
According to McNeill, if every company in the supply chain was willing to ensure sustainability and traceability, it would be simple, but as it is right now, it can be a very complicated process.
So, what does this look like for the candy industry? Well, confectionery companies aren’t the focus and won’t be hit the heaviest from the FDA’s mandate. Some candies’ coating could cause potential issues, but there are alternatives such as coconut and palm oil.