The Obama administration is banning the largest source of trans fat that is commonly found in junk food like potato chips, cookies and french fries.
The Food and Drug Administration announced Tuesday it is giving food manufacturers three years to phase out partially hydrogenated oils from their products, after determining it is not safe for human consumption.
Partially hydrogenated oils are the primary source of the artificially manufactured fats found in processed foods, the FDA says. They have been linked to heart disease.
“Our goal is to minimize consumption of trans fat as much as possible,” said Susan Mayne, director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.
Trans fat has been on the FDA’s radar for the better part of a decade.
Food manufacturers have been required to list them on nutritional labels since 2006, which the agency says has helped reduce consumption by about 78 percent.
Some food manufacturers have already begun to eliminate trans fat from their products, the FDA noted.
However, it is still commonly found in deep-friend foods like french fries; in baked goods like pies, cookies and cakes; and even in microwave popcorn.
Many people unknowingly consume small amounts of trans fat, the FDA said. Under current rules, food manufacturers are not required to point out if they use fewer than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving.
“So even if consumers choose products that say they have zero trans fat, they could still be getting [small traces of it],” Mayne said.
The FDA first suggested in 2013 that trans fat may not be safe for human consumption, and the agency is now finalizing that determination.
This means trans fat will no longer be “generally recognized as safe” and will eventually be phased out across the country, the agency noted.
The move is a huge victory for public health advocates but could cost the food industry $6.2 billion over the next 20 years, according to the FDA.
“There’s a large body of evidence that these are risk factors for heart disease,” Mayne said.
FDA acting Commissioner Stephen Ostroff said the move would promote the “heart health of all Americans.”
"This action is expected to reduce coronary heart disease and prevent thousands of fatal heart attacks every year,” Ostroff said.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) called the FDA's decision a “great step in the battle against heart disease, particularly heart attacks, which threaten Americans’ quality of life and contributes to thousands of lives being cut short prematurely.”
“Ridding our food of dangerous, unnecessary artificial trans fats will save lives,” she said.
But others urged caution.
“As we’ve seen in the last several decades, science is constantly changing the way we view what is and isn’t healthy,” said Richard Williams, vice president for policy research at Mercatus and a former FDA official. "Before a government agency bans a product, like trans fats, they have an obligation to try and find out what is likely to substitute for that product to ensure that we are not doing more harm than good.”
— This story was updated at 12:11 p.m.