The recent news regarding the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banning artificial trans fats (food companies have until 2018 to comply) begs the question: why did it take so long?
That is exactly what Julia Belluz of Vox wanted to find out. One significant factor? Industry blocking negative science on trans fats for decades, she reports.
- “Scientists first began sounding the alarm about the potential harms of artificial trans fats in the 1950s. Back then, researchers published a letter in the journal Science pointing to suspicious accumulations of trans fatty acids inside the arteries of people who died from heart disease.”
- “In 1976 came a pivotal moment that could have changed the story of trans fat forever, and likely saved thousands of lives. The FDA was trying to determine whether artificial trans fat should be considered “generally recognized as safe for human consumption” — a designation it gives to food and food additives based on the available research evidence.
- “They contracted the decision out to the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology,” explained Kenneth Oye, professor of political science at MIT “and the group determined that ‘there is no evidence in the available information on [artificial trans fats] that demonstrates or suggests reasonable grounds to suggest a hazard to the public.’ “
- “In the ’80s, scientists employed by Kraft and Procter & Gamble — Dr. Thomas Applewhite and Dr. J. Edward Hunter — would routinely unpick and cast doubt on the emerging science of trans fat’s health harms, often in journal articles. The pair would also work behind the scenes, according to investigative reporter Nina Teicholz, finding ways of getting papers that were critical of trans fats reviewed negatively in the pre-publication academic peer review process. As one colleague of Applewhite’s said, “Protecting trans fats from the taint of negative scientific findings was our charge.”
- “Dr. Fred Kummerow, who is now 100 years old and a professor at the University of Illinois, conducted the early research on cadavers and pigs. And he says he often found himself battling an industry-driven narrative. “Industry scientists told the FDA trans fats were okay,” he told Vox. He said everyone who disagreed either couldn’t get research funding or found themselves derided by their peers.”
We can’t help but wonder: if industry had educated dietitians on artificial trans fats in the 1970s, would the message be that they are absolutely safe? Would concerns be dismissed as “anti-science”, in the same way industry currently frames concerns surrounding sugar-sweetened beverages or high intakes of processed foods?