Tristan Williams, a student at Columbia High School in Maplewood, New Jersey, shops for products at a supermarket during a special education program aimed at teaching students life skills, June 15, 2011. Calculating the best-priced cookie dough may be a small challenge for the executives of Diamond Enterprises, but making eye contact while paying the cashier is an enormous one. Picture taken June 15, 2011. Barbara Goldberg/Reuters
Canadians could benefit under a U.S. proposal to require the food industry to gradually phase out trans fats, says a consumer advocate who wants Health Canada to follow the FDA's lead.
On Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration proposed banning artificial trans fat in processed food, saying the elimination could prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 heart-related deaths each year in the U.S.
Manufacturers use trans fats to extend shelf life. Consuming trans fat raises low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or "bad" cholesterol, increasing the risk of coronary heart disease, the FDA says.
The U.S. regulator is proposing to make partially hydrogenated oils, the main dietary source of trans fats in processed foods, an additive that could not be used in food unless authorized.
"Canadian consumers may benefit indirectly by the Obama administration’s decision to get partially hydrogenated oils out of the food supply if American exports are as safe as their foods produced for domestic consumption," Bill Jeffery, national co-ordinator for the Centre for Science in the Public Interest, said in a statement.
"But, so long as the federal government here continues to ignore the scientific consensus on trans fat and give industry a free pass, Canada might also become a dumping ground for slightly cheaper and way more dangerous foods."
Last year, Jeffery's group obtained documents that showed the federal government planned to limit the trans fat content of vegetable oils and soft, spreadable margarines to two per cent of the total fat content and all other foods to five per cent.
The announcement was never made.
Food & Consumer Products of Canada, which represents the food, beverage and consumer products industry, said it aware of the FDA proposal.
"Canada once had the highest levels of trans-fat consumption in the world,"Susan Abel, the group's vice-president of safety and compliance, said in a statement to CBC News.
"Today, the majority of Canada's food supply is trans-fat-free and Canadians have access to thousands of reformulated products. In fact, according to Health Canada’s own monitoring program, 80 per cent of the pre-packaged foods have reached the voluntary target reduction goals."
The FDA said trans fats can still be found in some processed foods, such as:
- Crackers, cookies, cakes, frozen pies and other baked goods.
- Microwave popcorn products.
- Frozen pizza.
- Vegetable shortenings and stick margarines.
- Coffee creamers.
- Refrigerated dough products (such as biscuits and cinnamon rolls).
- Ready-to-use frostings.
During a 60-day public comment period, the FDA is seeking comments, such as how the move would impact small businesses.
Natural trans fats are found in meat and milk from ruminant animals.
There is a 60-day public comment period for the FDA's proposal.
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