When is a Ban not a Ban?

I used to be the kind of person that assumed that products for sale in the grocery store were safe to eat. That didn’t change until recently. After I went on the 21 Day Sugar Detox last spring I began to read up on foods. I wasn’t looking for things to hate on, I was looking for food news to write about in my blog, this blog.

The books I found and the documentaries that I watched all added to a general feeling that my trust in the food regulations in the US was misplaced. The recent news that the FDA will be ‘banning’ trans fats is a great piece to analyze, because it perfectly illustrates all that is wrong with food regulation in this great nation.

When food regulation was in it’s formative years, when the first nutrition guidelines were being created in the US, back in the 60’s, there was a lively debate occurring about what could be the cause of the increase in heart disease among middle aged men. One camp held that there seemed to be a correlation between eating saturated fats and the existence of fatty deposits in heart arteries. The other camp held that not enough was known to make a wholesale recommendation concerning diet change. That was the status of the debate, one side said we know enough to do something and the other side said that doing something would lead to unexpected results without further analysis.

The ‘do anything’ crowd shouted down the ‘proceed with caution’ crowd and it led to a world that recommended low fat diets to fight heart disease, and replacing saturated fats with partially hydrogenated oils (PHO). The difference, the main difference, is that saturated fats came from natural sources, and PHO came from food science factories. Liquid vegetable oils could be chemically treated to force them to be solids at room temperature. The logic went that they were vegetable liquid oils before, and that essentially they still were vegetable oil, and therefore not saturated fats. The product already existed, having been invented decades earlier, but they never caught on as a substitute for lard or butter. Now, with the force of government dietary regulations behind them, America switched from butter to margarine. Vegetable shortening and margarine were given a pass as far as food safety went. Nobody ever had tested them long term to see if they were actually safe to eat. They were assumed to be “Generally Regarded As Safe” GRAS.

GRAS is a legal definition in the law controlling foods and additives to foods. Foods that are old enough and been around a long time, like margarine, get to be foods regarded as safe because people are not known to have issues, despite the food being around so long. It keeps the FDA from having to approve things like table salt, for instance. That makes sense.

It turns out, though, that PHOs are not safe to eat. Having the entire population switch from natural fats to artificial fats revealed a problem with the entire GRAS construct. Trans fats got grandfathered into our diet without any kind of safety testing, and they caused the very issue they were promoted to correct. It turns out that saturated fats were unfairly maligned by the government as playing a role in heart health. It turns out that they fingered the wrong suspect, that they recommended we eat something that causes heart disease to correct heart disease.

Enough history…the government is finally getting it’s act together, and ‘banning’ trans fats in foods–three years from now. Already our annual dose of trans fats has decreased 78% from it’s peak, since the first public proclamations that it is not safe to eat. If you wondered why I keep putting the air quotes around the word banning, there is this, from an article at takeapart.com :

But thanks in part to lobbying efforts by the Grocery Manufacturers of America, an industry group consisting mainly of food companies and food retailers, manufacturers will be allowed to use ingredients aside from partially hydrogenated oils that contain trans fats, and, as is the case today, they won’t be obligated to disclose trans fat content if it’s below half a gram per serving. That’s because the ban is of PHOs, not trans fats per se. That means if the industry can come up with another ingredient that—like butter, PHOs, and palm oil—performs the magic of adding fat’s mouthfeel while remaining solid at room temperature, and if said ingredient contains trans fats—like some meat and dairy products—well, it will be the food zombie of 2018.

The ban is of one form of trans fats. If the industry has to use trans fats in the new version of cooking oil that is solid at room temperature, then that will be just fine.

When the government bans something industry can always respond by tweaking one molecule in the formula and calling it something else. This gives them another forty year window to make the product until the government can get enough evidence to ban that product as well.

To cut to the chase…trans fats are just one example among many where we can see that food manufacturers do not have our health as the prime interest in what they produce. Not even close. Only one food manufacturer produces food that is known to always be healthy, that can be counted on to have all of the essential vitamins and minerals in the correct proportions, that always agree with our digestive systems–Nature. The only drawback to natural food is that it doesn’t keep on the shelf long enough. It has to be picked before it is ripe in order to make the journey from half a continent away to your grocery shelves. Natural food rots because it is real, and because it is edible. Artificial food does not rot and keeps forever because it actively inhibits life.

Trust your food in your grocery at your own peril. The safest food there is the single ingredient foods found on the outside walls of the store. Vegetables, fruits, dairy, meats. All other food can contain any amount of trans fats up to half a gram per serving. Above that they have to be labeled as containing trans fats. They can be GMO without a label. They can contain artificial ingredients and food colorings that cause dietary and allergic issues without labeling. Newly formulated chemicals can be added as ‘artificial flavors’ and these chemicals will have only been ‘tested’ by the manufacturer, who informs the FDA that they find it safe to sell and add to foods. The FDA doesn’t approve anything, they stamp the maker’s approval with the ‘Duly Noted’ stamp. You get to test these things on your family.

At my house we just don’t eat processed foods any more. I no longer trust the ‘process’ the FDA uses to approve things. Heck, now I don’t even trust the process by which they yank approval away from items once GRAS–at glacial speed. I trust Nature. Let the food industry do what it wants, it can’t get to me or mine any more. Quit buying their products and they will quit making them. It doesn’t matter how cheaply they can make things or how long they last on the shelf if we all avoid them. It is really the only thing that gets their attention–your attention.

About dcarmack

I am an instrument technician at the electric utility servicing the Kansas City Missouri metropolitan area. I am in the IBEW, Local 412. I was trained to be a nuclear power plant operator in the USN and served on submarines. I am a Democrat, even more so than those serving in Congress or the White House.
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One Response to When is a Ban not a Ban?

  1. Pingback: One Small Change at a Time

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