The US Food and Drug Administration is announcing today that it will require the food industry to gradually phase out trans fats, saying they are a threat to people's health. The agency is not yet setting a timeline for the phase-out, but it will collect comments for two months before officials determine how long it will take. Different foods may have different timelines, depending how easy it is to find a substitute. Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said the move could prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths in the US each year.
To phase them out, the FDA said it had made a preliminary determination that trans fats no longer fall in the agency's "generally recognized as safe" category, which is reserved for thousands of additives that manufacturers can add to foods without FDA review. Once trans fats are off the list, anyone who wants to use them would have to petition the agency for a regulation allowing it, and that would be unlikely to be approved. "We want to do it in a way that doesn't unduly disrupt markets," says Michael Taylor, FDA's deputy commissioner for foods. Still, he says, the food "industry has demonstrated that it is by and large feasible to do." Many companies have already phased out trans fats, and New York City and other local governments have banned them. (Read more Food and Drug Administration stories.)