WASHINGTON, D.C. (Reuters) – The U.S. government says it will ask companies to start telling people how much artery-clogging trans-fats are in their food.
Trans-fats are found in meat, milk, cookies and fries and raise cholesterol, especially the bad, or LDL, type.
But while food labels warn consumers about saturated fats, which do the same thing, there is no way to know for sure whether a food contains trans-fats.
Trans-fatty acids are a component of fat and are found in all animal fats, from meat to butter. They are also made synthetically when food processors harden fat in a process called hydrogenization, as in some margarines.
Even before the announcement, consumer groups welcomed it while food makers rushed to point out which of their products are low in or free of trans-fats.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest, which has been pressing hard for the labels, said the move “will spur companies to reformulate products and to let consumers know how much of this dangerous and heretofore hidden fat is in packaged foods,” the centre’s nutrition policy director Margo Wootan said.
“It will be hard, though, for people to tell if a given number of grams of trans-fat is a lot or a little. Five grams may not seem like a lot, but it is.”
The centre pointed out that the rule does not apply to restaurants, which often use frying oils that are high in trans-fats.
The National Food Processors Association said it was happy with the new requirement.
“This rule’s effective date of 2006 will enable food companies to undertake the substantial process of redesigning and relabelling their products within a workable time frame,” said Rhona Applebaum, executive vice-president of the association.