Politics & Policy

No More Transfats for You! Up Next: Bans on Salt, Sugar, and Caffeine?

Healthier doughnuts? (Kelpfish/Dreamstime)

Transfats have been on the FDA’s radar for years. Yesterday, the agency finally dropped the proverbial meat mallet, telling food manufacturers that partially hydrogenated oils (also called transfats) are no longer considered “generally recognized as safe.” In other words, transfats are banned in the United States, and food companies have only three years to completely phase out their use. Naturally, this is all being done to save lives and reduce medical costs.

No one disputes that transfats are unhealthy. Yet that doesn’t mean that this ban makes sense. While some manufacturers will have to make changes to comply with the ban, most products will remain as is. That’s because, in the last decade, food makers have been voluntarily removing transfats from products. As a result — and also because consumers have learned that transfats are unhealthy — transfats in the American diet have declined precipitously. According to the CDC, since 2003, Americans’ transfat consumption has fallen by about 80 percent, to roughly 1 gram per day.

Given this natural decline, many are scratching their heads about this move by the FDA. Why suddenly ban transfats when food companies are already eliminating their use?

Perhaps its because our government nannies can’t bear that Americans are making healthy decisions on their own. They want to be able to take credit for ridding the world of transfats before they go extinct.

RELATED: A Faustian Bargain on Food Regulation

Naturally, the FDA’s announcement of the transfat ban was filled with over-the-top rhetoric. HHS Secretary Margaret Hamburg had already stated in an FDA press release from November 2013 that the ban “could prevent an additional 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths from heart disease each year.” Yesterday, CDC commissioner Thomas Frieden — who prior to his appointment at the CDC served as Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s health commissioner and helped institute New York City’s transfat ban — expressed his delight at the national ban, tweeting: “I applaud @US_FDA action to remove artificial transfats in processed foods; expected to prevent thousands of heart attacks every year.”

While certainly transfats are bad for you, there’s little to suggest that small amounts of transfats are dangerous or that eliminating them will save lives by reducing heart disease. That’s because many factors besides transfat consumption contribute to cardiovascular disease: smoking, alcohol use, weight, gender, genes, and other lifestyle choices. The occasional indulgence in an unhealthy treat that includes transfats is unlikely the behavior that puts someone over the top and into cardiac arrest.

And how are Americans still getting their 1 daily gram of transfats? Products such as sprinkles, cake frosting, doughnuts and other pastries, microwave popcorn, and some convenience foods like frozen pizzas, and pancake and pie-crust mixes sometimes still contain small amounts of transfats. Do you detect a pattern here? These are all foods that everyone knows should be eaten in moderation.

RELATED: Reforming the FDA

So how much more “healthy” will these products be when they have zero transfats? Not much. And interestingly, replacements for transfats are proving problematic. The food industry hasn’t yet found a replacement for transfats in every product, but many manufacturers have started replacing unhealthy but environmentally friendly transfats with almost equally unhealthy and less environmentally friendly palm oil. Palm oil comes primarily from Malaysia and Indonesia, two countries environmentalists bemoan for the crime of deforestation and endangering the habitat of orangutans. Palm oil is also extremely high in saturated fat, which people should limit in their diet, according to the latest medical advice. Ironically, people may end up with a diet that’s less healthy after the transfats ban — if they believe that transfat-free cake frosting and doughnuts are now okay to eat.

Government largely created the demand for transfats by warning of the dangers of butter and other animal-derived fats.

We’ve seen how such government guidance has backfired before. Note that government largely created the demand for transfats by warning of the dangers of butter and other animal-derived fats. And now the government is reversing course to push transfats out of the picture.

Wouldn’t it be better if the government just stayed out of the business of trying to tell people how to eat and stopped issuing bans on the ingredients food manufactures use to make their products?

Yesterday, Cato’s Walter Olson reacted to the transfat ban by warning that food activists see this as a test case for further bans of such embattled food ingredients as salt, sugar, and caffeine. This may seem farfetched to some, but don’t forget, just like transfats are bad in large quantities, so are salt, sugar, and caffeine. Why not ban these ingredients, too?

Think of the lives saved, the millions saved in medical costs.

— Julie Gunlock writes about food for the Independent Women’s Forum.

Most Popular

White House

The Hole in the Impeachment Case

Thought experiment No. 1: Suppose Bob Mueller’s probe actually proves that Donald Trump is under Vladimir Putin’s thumb. Fill in the rest of the blanks with your favorite corruption fantasy: The Kremlin has video of the mogul-turned-president debauching himself in a Moscow hotel; the Kremlin has a bulging ... Read More
White House

The Hole in the Impeachment Case

Thought experiment No. 1: Suppose Bob Mueller’s probe actually proves that Donald Trump is under Vladimir Putin’s thumb. Fill in the rest of the blanks with your favorite corruption fantasy: The Kremlin has video of the mogul-turned-president debauching himself in a Moscow hotel; the Kremlin has a bulging ... Read More
Media

Martha McSally’s Blasphemy

As I note in my New York Post piece today, I don’t believe that Martha McSally, who is serving her first term in the Senate after being appointed to take John McCain’s seat, is going to be helped much by accusing CNN’s Manu Raju of being a “hack.” Attacking the press might be an effective way to excite ... Read More
Media

Martha McSally’s Blasphemy

As I note in my New York Post piece today, I don’t believe that Martha McSally, who is serving her first term in the Senate after being appointed to take John McCain’s seat, is going to be helped much by accusing CNN’s Manu Raju of being a “hack.” Attacking the press might be an effective way to excite ... Read More

People Make New Orleans

I had my first taste of southern hospitality the day I moved to New York. A young woman from New Orleans, whom I had met only briefly over Skype (she had advertised a room in the Bronx, though I preferred a room in Manhattan), had asked if anyone would be picking me up from the airport. No, I told her. I didn’t ... Read More

People Make New Orleans

I had my first taste of southern hospitality the day I moved to New York. A young woman from New Orleans, whom I had met only briefly over Skype (she had advertised a room in the Bronx, though I preferred a room in Manhattan), had asked if anyone would be picking me up from the airport. No, I told her. I didn’t ... Read More
Elections

Lying Liz

Ever since she began explaining how her Medicare for all plan would be funded, and how she would pass it, Elizabeth Warren has been sinking. Ahead of last week’s debate, her camp leaked a story that her friend Bernie Sanders met with her in 2018 to discuss plans for 2020, and that at this meeting, Sanders had ... Read More
Elections

Lying Liz

Ever since she began explaining how her Medicare for all plan would be funded, and how she would pass it, Elizabeth Warren has been sinking. Ahead of last week’s debate, her camp leaked a story that her friend Bernie Sanders met with her in 2018 to discuss plans for 2020, and that at this meeting, Sanders had ... Read More
Elections

Thanks for Nothing, New York Times

Imagine how self-important you’d have to be as an institution to decide that the public so craves your political advice and opinion that you need to air an hour-long program dedicated to sharing your painstaking deliberations over who ought to be the Democratic presidential nominee. Next, imagine you’re so ... Read More
Elections

Thanks for Nothing, New York Times

Imagine how self-important you’d have to be as an institution to decide that the public so craves your political advice and opinion that you need to air an hour-long program dedicated to sharing your painstaking deliberations over who ought to be the Democratic presidential nominee. Next, imagine you’re so ... Read More