Zero Should Mean Zero When it Comes to Trans Fat, Says CSPI

Statement of CSPI Executive Director Michael F. Jacobson

October 5, 2007

Are there zero grams of trans fat in your waffles? Well, I suppose it depends on what the definition of “zero” is. As the group that first urged the Food and Drug Administration to list trans fat on food labels, the Center for Science in the Public Interest stands in strong support of Representative Steve Israel’s common sense legislation.

If you had $499 in the bank, would you want the bank to round it down to zero? To the regret of health-conscious consumers everywhere, that’s exactly what the FDA lets food manufacturers get away with.

Consider the consumer who over the course of a day eats three or four servings of margarine, microwave popcorn, or other foods that have just under a half a gram of trans fat per serving. That could add up to nearly two grams of trans fat. That’s not a rounding error. That’s the maximum safe limit, according to many health authorities. But the consumer wouldn’t have a clue. At least in Canada, “zero” grams means the food has less than 0.2 grams of trans fat per serving—a much safer limit.

Furthermore, that two grams of trans fat is about as much as one could expect from the trans fat that occurs naturally in milk and meat products. There really is no room in the food supply for the artificial trans fat that comes from partially hydrogenated oil. If a food contains any partially hydrogenated oil, the asterisk that this legislation proposes would signal to consumers that there is up to a half a gram. But, more importantly, I hope that Representative Israel’s bill paves the way for even broader federal action to get that one particular artificial ingredient out of packaged food and restaurant food altogether.

Representative Israel’s legislation doesn’t just safeguard the public health. It helps safeguard the English language, whose words tend to gradually lose their meaning at the hands of myopic federal regulators. Let’s let zero mean zero again.


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