Pushed by a lawsuit, the Food and Drug Administration has followed through and banned the use of trans fats in processed food: producers have three years to phase out the substance. I’ve got a new piece at Cato making a few basic points: the move is sheer paternalism, it’s setting a precedent (against voluntary consumer assumption of even small risks) that activists are eager to roll out against other ingredients like salt and sugar, it’s not popular with the public (this poll finds a plurality, not majority, going along, while this one finds majorities opposed). And voluntary consumer adjustments (trans fat consumption is down by an estimated 85 percent) have already cut Americans’ average daily intake to half of what the American Heart Association recommends.
Then there’s the sadly ironic history of the whole subject: trans fats were avidly promoted at the time by the same sorts of public health activists and government nutritionists who now push for a ban. CNN:
Dr. Steven Nissen, the chair of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, praised the FDA for its “bold courage” and said it “deserves a lot of credit” for taking this “enormously important” move.
“In many ways, trans fat is a real tragic story for the American diet,” Nissen said. “In the 1950s and ’60s, we mistakenly told Americans that butter and eggs were bad for them and pushed people to margarine, which is basically trans fat. What we’ve learned now is that saturated fat is relatively neutral — it is the trans fat that is really harmful and we had made the dietary situation worse.”
Or as my colleague Scott Lincicome puts it, “Food tyranny didn’t fail. It just needed better managers”
Now make way for the most popular, and still legal, substitutes for trans fats: tropical palm and coconut oils, each with problems of its own. And an even better prospect — the next panic? –is GMO-derived high-oleic soybean oil.