If eliminating a tasteless and easily replaceable ingredient from the nation’s food supply would save 7,000 lives and prevent 20,000 heart attacks a year, we’d do it, right? Of course, we would.
But because of timid regulators and industry inertia, it took a couple of decades to do so after the health dangers of artery-clogging trans fats were first recognized. But on Thursday, the federal Food and Drug Administration announced plans to begin eliminating artificial trans fats from the nation’s food supplies.
Consumers are unlikely to notice the absence of the fats, largely used in fried fast food, baked goods and processed foods requiring a long shelf life. The Associated Press says that Dunkin’ Donuts sold 50 million doughnuts made with a trans-fat substitute to see if any customers noticed. Apparently none did.
The ban will have some food manufacturers scrambling for replacements for trans fat, a specially treated form of vegetable oil originally concocted in the early 1900s as a cheaper substitute for butter and lard. But the impact on manufacturers was largely mitigated because regulators have been telegraphing their punch for years. In 2003, for example, the FDA began requiring food labels to list the number of grams of trans fat per serving.
The crusade really took off when it was taken up by New York City Mayor — and food-safety maven — Michael Bloomberg, who initiated a ban that was phased in over three years and took full effect in 2008.
The health-conscious mayor has succeeded in driving most tobacco smokers in his city outdoors. He has been less successful in limiting the sale of large, heavily sugared drinks.
Bloomberg must leave office Jan. 1, and at least some of his healthy-New-Yorker campaign will survive. His first health commissioner, Dr. Thomas Frieden, is now head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Bloomberg’s successor, Bill de Blasio, at least says he’s committed to the mayor’s public-health initiatives. And Bloomberg has a well-funded foundation to carry on his work.