Partially Hydrogenated Oils Are Now Banned, Right?
Well, Yes — Only Not Quite
By LINDA and BILL BONVIE
They’re supposed to be history by now. We’re talking about the particularly dangerous class of food additives known as partially hydrogenated oils, or PHOs, which are the result of solidifying a vegetable oil by infusing it with hydrogen gas.
Long used to extend the shelf-life of various processed foods, such as baked goods, PHOs were also cutting short the lives of many of those who regularly consumed them, being the primary source of artery-clogging trans fats in our diet (as chronicled in our 2017 book Badditives!).
That’s why the FDA took the most unusual step of ordering them phased out of the food supply by this past June 18, after acknowledging that they were causing an estimated 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths in this country every year. (And that’s just a fraction of the number claimed by the late Dr. Fred Kummerow, the professor of comparative biosciences who spent years petitioning the FDA to ban PHOs and lived long enough – to the age of 102 – to see his efforts rewarded.)
The removal of these ingredients from the GRAS (generally recognized as safe) list was quite an achievement in itself – one the FDA noted was a response to both “citizen petitions” and “available scientific evidence and the findings of expert scientific panels establishing the health risks associated with the consumption” of trans fats.
And it came only after considerable resistance from the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), which submitted a petition to the agency in 2015, and an amended version last year, requesting that the food additive regulations be amended to provide for the safe use of PHOs in certain food applications.
The FDA subsequently denied that petition because it “determined that the petitioner did not provide sufficient information for us to conclude that the requested uses of PHOs are safe.”
But that’s not to say that PHOs are now automatically gone from all the products that line supermarket shelves. Because while turning down that last-ditch attempt to keep PHOs from being consigned to the adulterated ingredient graveyard, the agency did see fit to “allow the food industry sufficient time to identify suitable replacement substances.”
So how much time are we talking about? Well, it seems that some of the uses of these altered oils will be permitted until next June 18. Those are the “petitioned uses” for which the FDA acknowledges “that the food industry needs additional time to identify suitable replacement substances” and for which it “has indicated that 12 months could be a reasonable timeframe for reformulation.”
Others, however, the “non-petitioned” ones, will have even longer – until the first of January, 2020. That’s because “FDA understands additional time is needed for products manufactured (domestically and internationally) before June 18, 2018, to work their way through distribution.”
And since during that period, you might still very well end up consuming them and further endangering your heart health, it remains imperative that you check those ingredient lists before buying any processed food products.
And we would hope that’s something you’ll continue to do, even after the last vestiges of PHOs are gone – because there are a whole lot of other “badditives’ remaining in our food supply. We can also only hope that the pro-industry Trump administration doesn’t find a way to modify or reverse this lifesaving regulation while it has us distracted with other issues.
For more on the denial of the GMA’s petition, see https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2018/05/21/2018-10715/grocery-manufacturers-association-denial-of-food-additive-petition
For more on the FDA’s extension of the compliance period, see https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2018-05-21/pdf/2018-10714.pdf (Please note, this prompts download of PDF.)
Linda and Bill Bonvie are regular bloggers for Citizens for Health and the co-authors of Badditives: The 13 Most Harmful Food Additives in Your Diet – and How to Avoid Them.