Prepared Foods November 28, 2005 e-newsletter

Some food firms may be exempted for up to two years from a trans fat labeling rule that goes into effect January if they can prove that they will lose money changing product labels, a new agency guidance says.

FDA in 2003 issued a final rule requiring that products list the amount of trans fat in grams, without a percent Daily Value, under the saturated fat line on nutrition labels.

Small food firms protested. They said the rule would hurt companies with large stocks of the old labels, so FDA will evaluate on a case-by-case basis requests to be exempted.

The agency will take into consideration how much trans fat is in the product, how much money the company will lose if it wastes already printed labels, and how much time the company says it needs to use up their labels, the guidance says.

FDA says they have already received three requests, and the guidance predicts over 50 more the first year and 28 more the second year.

Firms must submit the request in writing, and FDA says it will be done evaluating all requests within two years, at which point all food firms must comply with the new rule.

Meanwhile, a new study by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) says that many food processors and supermarkets are reducing their reliance on trans fats in response to the new labeling rule. The labeling deadline has been an incentive for grocery stores and processors to use healthier oils, a CSPI press release says.

The study says that seven of the top 10 cracker brands have reduced trans fats to nearly 0g. Supermarket chain Whole Foods has never sold products that contain partially hydrogenated oils with trans fats, and other chains are eliminating the oils from their store-brand products, according to the CSPI press release.

Chain restaurants, however, are lagging, according to the CSPI study.

CSPI has long lobbied FDA to force restaurants to adopt the trans fat labeling rule. The group argues that new rulemaking is unnecessary because the agency already developed vast records on trans fat before implementing the labeling rule for packaged foods. FDA has the legal authority to impose labeling requirements on restaurants, CSPI states.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association last year argued that HHS should not discourage consumers from eating trans fats in its new dietary guidelines. Doing so could carry the unintended consequence of increased consumption of other fats that pose even greater health risks.

Source: FDA Week