In June, FDA announced its determination that PHOs are not generally recognized as safe or GRAS for use in human food. This determination requires food manufacturers to submit a food additive petition for safe uses of PHOs and to phase out the uses of PHOs that are not included in a food additive petition by 2018. FDA Acting Commissioner Stephen Ostroff expects the decision to remove this source of trans fat will reduce the rate of coronary heart disease in Americans and prevent fatal heart attacks.

In a response to FDA’s decision, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) submitted a petition asking the food and beverage regulator to approve specific, low-level uses of partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), the primary dietary source of artificial trans fat in processed foods.

The petition seeks approval of PHOs for uses that are important for the production of safe food products—such as color and flavor carriers and to deliver certain consumer-desired textural characteristics other oils cannot provide (e.g., flakiness in doughs). GMA says the oils also function as essential processing aids such as pan release agents to prevent products from sticking to baking trays and rollers during the manufacturing process.

GMA argues its scientific evidence will show FDA there is “reasonable certainty of no harm” from the consumption of PHOs for the uses and at the levels the association is seeking.

“Our food additive petition shows the presence of trans fat from the proposed low-level uses of PHOs is as safe as the naturally occurring trans fat present in the normal diet,” states Dr. Leon Bruner, GMA’s chief science officer. “It’s important to know that food and beverage companies have already voluntarily lowered the amount of trans fat added to food products by more than 86 percent and will continue lowering PHO use to levels similar to naturally occurring trans fat found in the diet.”

Manufacturers have been required to list trans fat in the Nutrition Facts label since 2006. Between 2003 and 2012, FDA estimates consumer trans fat consumption decreased about 78 percent, primarily due to the labeling rule and reformulation of products.

Small amounts of trans fats naturally occur in some meat and dairy products, though according to the American Heart Association, “there have not been sufficient studies to determine whether these naturally occurring trans fats have the same bad effects on cholesterol levels as trans fats that have been industrially manufactured.”

Artificial trans fats are created by adding hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid. These oils are easy to use, inexpensive to produce and long lasting, making them popular with food manufacturers. Artificial trans fats can be found in many fried foods and baked goods such as biscuits, pie crusts, frozen pizza, cookies, crackers and margarines.

But the consumption of trans fat continues to be a major concern. Many companies have already been working to remove PHOs from processed foods, and FDA anticipates many may eliminate them ahead of the three-year compliance date.

 FDA is currently reviewing GMA’s food additive petition to confirm it has all the necessary information for the agency to complete its evaluation.