Why GRAS Is Making Headlines
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Politics and Activism

Why GRAS Is Making Headlines

And what it means for you

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Why GRAS Is Making Headlines

Throughout June, the headlines including, "All US Trans Fats to Be Removed by 2018" and "FDA To Food Companies: This Time, Zero Means Zero Trans Fats" graced the internet. It is no secret that the FDA released an announcement on June 16th affirming 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."

The removal of artificial trans fats in processed foods is a landmark event for health and an indicator of the FDA's authority.

The production of partially hydrogenated oils in food is not new. Paul Sabatier won a Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1912 for his method of hydrogenation. Meanwhile, Procter and Gamble introduced Crisco in 1911. The use of trans fats grew tremendously during the Great Depression because they were a less expensive substitute for butter and possessed several key qualities: they don’t spoil as easily as non-hydrogenated fats and they can endure heating without breaking down.

Trans fats were lauded as safe fats since they were made from vegetable products instead of saturated animal fats. Yet, despite the fact that scientists such as Fred Kummerow warned against the use of trans fats, their use grew through the 1900's.

In the 21st century, knowledge of the harmful effects of trans fats became more apparent. Many companies removed trans fats from their products. Now, over a century after the introduction of trans fats, the FDA is mandating their removal.

The ban demonstrates how government exerts its power for the health of the nation. From a single chemist in the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1862, the FDA grew to approximately 15,000 employees and a budget of $4.4 billion in 2014. It is the epitome of a big government.

Before the FDA, foodborne infections--including typhoid fever, tuberculosis, and botulism--were widespread. Upton Sinclair's famous The Jungle captured the unsanitary practices of the food industry in 1906. The FDA responded with the original Food and Drugs Act and the Meat Inspection Act.

The power of the FDA grew in 1957 with the Food Additives Amendment that required manufacturers of new food additives to establish safety and gave the first list of substances generally recognized as safe (GRAS). The list contains nearly 200 substances.

Removing partially hydrogenated oils from the GRAS list highlights how the government continues to improve safety with the help of new information. Other substances have been removed and even added back to the list including cyclamates and saccharin.

Food manufacturers have until 2018 to completely remove all partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. This time frame allows for recipe reformulation and product development. In the meantime it is important to read food labels carefully— the FDA defines “zero” as less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving. An ingredients list will show if a product contains partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.

Although the United States is behind several European countries that have already established bans on trans fats, the change will still have a tremendous impact on society.




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