ST. LOUIS - The American Soybean Association (ASA) responded to a notice from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that the agency has made a tentative determination to rescind the Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) status for partially-hydrogenated oils (PHO), including partially-hydrogenated vegetable oil (PHVO). The process of partially-hydrogenating vegetable oils to make them more stable for certain baking, frying, or food applications has taken place since the 1930s – a process that results in the formation of some trans fats. Due to indications that increased consumption of trans fats may negatively affect coronary health, the FDA started requiring in 2006 that food nutrition panels identify the amount of trans fats in food products. In response to today’s notice by the FDA, Mississippi soybean farmer and ASA President Danny Murphy issued the following statement:
“The vast majority of soybean oil consumed is not partially hydrogenated and is free of trans fats, so consumers can be assured of the continued safety and healthfulness of soybean oil and the many food products that contain it. It’s also important to remember that soybean oil is a very healthy oil that is high in poly-unsaturated fats and has high levels of heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids.
“Since the FDA announced plans to require the labeling of trans fat content in food products in 2003, the soybean industry, food manufacturers, and vegetable oil processors all have worked to greatly reduce the amount of partially hydrogenated oils and trans fats in food products. According to the FDA’s own analysis, average consumer consumption of trans fats has fallen by more than 70 percent in the past decade. We’ve replaced the functional characteristics that some baking and frying applications needed from partially hydrogenated oils through blending of various oils, the blending of fully hydrogenated soybean oil (which does not contain any trans fats) with liquid soybean and other oils, and other processes that reduce or eliminate trans fats.
“Additionally, seed and technology companies within the soybean industry have developed soybean varieties that are high in heart-healthy high oleic fatty acids and eliminate the need for partial hydrogenation. These high-oleic soybean oil varieties enable food companies to get the functionality they desire for flavor stability, texture, and other important characteristics while avoiding the tradeoff to higher saturated fat or trans fat levels that comes with using palm oil or partially hydrogenated oil for stability. The soy checkoff is working closely with these companies to accelerate the commercialization of these high oleic soybean varieties, and we expect to have significant quantities of high oleic soybean oil available in the marketplace by 2016.
“Given that the food and vegetable oil industries have already moved to greatly reduce trans fats in food products and in Americans’ diets, we do have questions about the need for FDA to take this proposed action. Further, we have concerns that if the FDA were to finalize this determination, food processors may be pressured to replace remaining partially hydrogenated oils with those high in saturated fat such as palm or coconut oils, which would not be a good outcome for consumers. Finally, since it will take a few years to ramp up high oleic soybean production to provide an economical alternative to food processors, we believe any final FDA determination on the matter should reflect this timeframe.
"We will respond to FDA’s request for comments and continue to work with our industry partners to maintain the progress of our industry and ensure the health and safety of American consumers.”