Food makers want more time to comment on trans fat ban

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Posted: Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:00 am

A group of food manufacturers is asking for more time to respond to the FDA’s proposal to essentially ban trans fats from their products.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association, of which Omaha’s ConAgra Foods is a member, has asked the FDA to double the amount of time allowed for comment, adding an extra 60 days to the comment period. The GMA said the extension is needed because of the holiday season and because of the complexity of the issue.

The GMA says its members have worked since 2003 to reduce the amount of partially hydrogenated oils in the food supply. ConAgra has removed the oils, the primary source of trans fats, from products including margarine and microwave popcorn. Some of its products still contain trans fats, including some Slim Jim meat sticks, LaChoy chow mein noodles, Banquet fried beef steak and some Marie Callender’s pies.

Under the proposed change, the FDA would determine that partially hydrogenated oils are no longer “generally recognized as safe.” The FDA has received more than 1,200 comments on the topic. ConAgra Foods spokeswoman Teresa Paulsen said ConAgra has not filed a comment with the FDA. She said the company will work through the GMA to understand the proposed changes.

The FDA estimates it will cost manufacturers about $8 billion to remove partially hydrogenated oils from the food supply. The costs may be spread over more than one year, if the FDA approves a multi-year compliance period. The benefits of eliminating trans fats are valued at between $117 billion and $242 billion. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that eliminating trans fats could prevent 3,000 to 7,000 coronary deaths per year.

The FDA is asking for comment on how long it would take producers to reformulate food products, whether some products would not be able to be reformulated, and what would be an adequate time period for manufacturers to come into compliance with a trans fat ban.

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