Fries at a high school cafeteria in Maine, September 2011 (Photo: Pat Wellenbach/AP)
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced a plan to ban trans fats from all foods.
Trans fats (or trans-isomer fatty acids) are a type of unsaturated fat which is not generally found in nature but can be created artificially. They are used in some food products to add flavour and texture, but trans fats have been linked to major health problems like coronary heart disease.
The FDA says it will require the food industry to gradually phase out trans fats, which it says are a threat to people's health. Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said Thursday the move could prevent 7,000 deaths and 20,000 heart attacks each year in the U.S.
"While consumption of potentially harmful artificial trans fat has declined over the last two decades in the United States, current intake remains a significant public health concern," Hamburg said.
No timeline for the phase-out has been set. There will be a 60-day period for public comments on the plan, in which time food companies are expected to outline how long they need to reformulate products to make them trans fat-free.
It's been more than 50 years since the U.S. has revised its regulations governing food additives, the Globe and Mail reports. The number of chemicals in the U.S. food supply have risen from fewer than 2,000 to about 10,000 in that time.
At the moment, the Canadian government does not regulate trans fats in the food industry. In 2012, Health Canada announced that it was "taking a voluntary approach with the food industry on trans fat," CBC News reports.
Bill Jeffery, an advocate for banning trans fats in Canada, says the U.S. decision may affect Canadians. Jeffery, the national co-ordinator for the Centre for Science in the Public Interest, speculated about the effect of the U.S. ban in an interview with CBC News.
"It may be that U.S. food manufacturers [who] export to Canada will just export a safer product with less trans fat in it, or maybe they'll see Canada as a market to dump their foods and maybe we'll end up with more trans fat coming across the border," Jeffery said.