Life after Trans Fats
By Genna Reed
Earlier this month, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that they would effectively ban the use of partially hydrogenated oils, also known as trans fats. These types of oils are used in many processed foods, including desserts, microwavable popcorn, frozen pizza and margarine, and have been linked to health risks including higher cholesterol and heart disease. In 2006, FDA required that food companies include trans fats in nutrition labels, which caused a reduction in the use of trans fats.
The American Soybean Association (ASA)— the trade group affiliated with all six of the biggest biotech companies (Monsanto, DuPont, Dow, BASF, Bayer and Syngenta)— immediately questioned FDA’s move to phase out trans fats, worrying that food companies would replace soybean oil with oils containing saturated fats like palm and coconut oil. ASA doesn’t want the FDA to move too quickly and chip away at the soybean industry’s market share before production of new varieties of genetically engineered soybeans with lower saturated fat can ramp up. It’s banking on increased production of Dupont Pioneer and Monsanto’s GE “Plenish” and “Vistive” soybeans, both engineered to be lower in saturated fat.
The ASA would have consumers believe that using “healthier” Roundup-Ready soybean oil in junk food is the only option, but there are other healthy vegetable oils that are low in saturated fats, including olive, sunflower, safflower and canola. Some junk food companies complain that using these healthier oils may have trouble replicating the taste profiles of their products with new oil content. But it’s possible that their real concern is that this move by the FDA might motivate more people to think twice about how the consumption of too many processed foods could impact their health.
As one medical doctor contends in the Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology: “The best way to avoid trans fats and potentially unhealthy substitutes for trans fats is to minimize the intake of fried foods, packaged baked goods, and snacks.”
FDA’s step towards eliminating trans fats is a step in the right direction. But the central role of processed and fried foods in most people’s diet needs to be part of the discussion too. FDA should not only call for a reduction of trans fats but also educate Americans about the benefits of eating whole foods instead of processed foods. Then instead of worrying about whether to choose the chocolate sandwich cookie made with environmentally destructive palm oil or the one made with environmentally destructive and unstudied Roundup-Ready low saturated fat GE soybeans, we could figure out what is actually healthy to eat.