The U.S. Food and Drug Administration last week turned down a petition from the Grocery Manufacturers Association to allow specific and limited uses of partially hydrogenated oils in foods. GMA had sought approval for manufacturers to continue using PHOs as color and flavor carriers and as processing aids in baked goods.
The agency also decided that GMA's petition was insufficient to establish that continued use of PHOs as the group requested are safe. For food makers whose products use PHOs as the GMA petition describes, FDA set a deadline of June 18, 2019, to reformulate ingredients and Jan. 1, 2021, to use up their inventory.
"Consuming PHOs increases the risk of heart disease, which is a leading cause of death for American men and women. Removing artificial trans fats from the marketplace is a significant step forward for public health," FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a release about the petition denial.
This move stems from FDA's 2015 decision that PHOs were no longer generally recognized as safe in human foods. In its petition filed that same year seeking continued low-level uses of PHOs, GMA asserted they were "as safe as the naturally occurring trans fat present in the normal diet."
The trade organization said it was disappointed in FDA's denial of its petition but appreciated the extended compliance date. GMA also said that food and beverage companies have already limited PHO-related trans fats in their products by more than 98%.
"We believe the petition presented extensive and verifiable data that supported the scientific basis for a safety approval of these minor continued uses of PHOs," Leon Bruner, GMA's executive vice-president of science and regulatory affairs and chief science officer, said in a statement.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest said it was glad FDA had taken this step and that it supported "removing this dangerous additive from the American food supply once and for all."
If the 98% reduction figure is accurate, it begs the question why GMA would continue to push for continued use of PHOs when FDA has found them unsafe for public health. It seems like a counterintuitive action for an industry lobbying group when consumers are demanding fewer additives and healthier fats in their food.
GMA's petition effort seems to add to its growing reputation as being out of touch with current consumer trends. A number of the group's larger members have recently left the trade group, including Campbell Soup, Nestlé, Dean Foods, Mars, Tyson Foods, Unilever, Hershey, Cargill, Kraft Heinz and DowDuPont.
While most of the departing companies didn't give a specific reason for leaving, Campbell indicated that the group's unwillingness to accept mandatory GMO labeling was a factor in its decision. GMA's continued opposition to the rising tide against PHOs in human food could cause further defections from the ranks, as well as convince those departing companies that they did the right thing.
Some PHO alternatives — including enzymatically interesterified high-oleic soybean oil and high-oleic canola shortening — are more expensive and are likely to result in higher prices for products in which they're used. However, if consumers understand why these substitutions are being made, they may be willing to pay a bit more on the retail end for a healthier product. Besides, after Jan. 1, 2021, no more PHOs will be allowed.