Wed. 9:35 p.m.: Food industry asks for exemptions to trans fat phase out

WASHINGTON – Shortening, pie crusts, brownies and microwave popcorn could be partially exempt from a government phase out of artificial trans fats – if the food industry gets its way.

The Food and Drug Administration announced in June that it is requiring food companies to largely rid their foods of the artery-clogging fats over the next three years, calling them a threat to public health. But food companies can still petition to use them sparingly.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association, the leading industry group for the food industry, said today that it is petitioning the FDA to continue the use of artificial trans fats in hundreds of foods, from tiny amounts in breakfast cereals to larger amounts in shortening and pie crusts.

The food industry argues that the levels would not increase heart disease risk any more than naturally occurring trans fats from meat and dairy products.

Food companies “have already voluntarily lowered the amount of trans fat added to food products by more than 86 percent and will continue lowering (partially hydrogenated oil) use to levels similar to naturally occurring trans fat found in the diet,” said Leon Bruner of the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

The fats are created when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil to make it more solid, which is why they are often called partially hydrogenated oils. Scientists say there are no health benefits to the fats, which are used in processing food and in restaurants, usually to improve texture, shelf life or flavor. They can raise levels of “bad” cholesterol and lower “good” cholesterol, increasing the risk of heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States.

Many of the amounts requested in the group’s petition would be less than a gram of trans fat per serving – a move that public health groups see as positive.