New Regulations: Nutritional Labeling

A new regulation, finalized July 11, 2003, requires the labeling of the amount of trans fat per serving in conventional food products (68FR 41434). This regulation goes into effect January 1, 2006.

Trans fat is an unsaturated fatty acid with a molecular structure containing one or more isolated double bonds in a trans configuration. This specific type of fat is formed when liquid oils are transformed into solid fat such as shortening and hard margarine. These oils, normally occurring in the cis configuration, are artificially transformed into the trans configuration when hydrogen is added to vegetable oils – a manufacturing process called hydrogenation. Manufacturers use the hydrogenation process to increase the shelf life and flavor stability of foods. Minor amounts of trans fats are naturally found in milk, butter and meats.

Unfortunately, trans fats, like saturated fats, have been shown to increase low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol. Elevated LDL cholesterol increases the risk of developing coronary heart disease. Consumer concerns raised to the FDA prompted the filing of a petition requesting steps for the requirement of trans fat declaration on nutrition labels and claims.

The FDA requested the Institute of Medicine (IOM) issue a report on dietary reference intakes (RDI’s) for trans fatty acids. The IOM did not establish an upper limit of consumption or a RDI for trans fat, but recommended that, “intake of trans fat should be as low as possible while consuming a nutritionally adequate diet”. In order for consumers to follow these recommendations, an informed decision on trans fat content of individual food products is required, prompting the amendment of the food labeling regulations to include the mandatory trans fat declaration.

The National Food Processors Association (NFPA) recently voiced its concerns on the actual labeling of products with this trans fat information.  Dr. Rhona Applebaum, NFPA’s executive vice president and chief science officer stated, “Informing is not educating.  It appears FDA’s assumption is that one of the primary purposes of a footnote is to educate consumers.  We respectfully disagree with this premise.  Consumers must be educated about the need to restrict their intake of trans fats using tools more effective than a label footnote.”

The FDA’s final ruling states that the declaration of trans fat should be located in the Nutrition Facts panel on a separate line under saturated fat, as “trans fat” or “trans”. The FDA has not established a Daily Value (DV) for trans fat and consequently the trans fat will be listed in gram amounts only. If total fat of the food is less than 0.5 gram per serving, trans fat does not have to be declared, however, a footnote must be added stating that the food is “not a significant source of trans fat”.