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EDWIN FEULNER: Putting the government in charge of your diet

The Heritage Foundation Published: September 3, 2014 4:00 AM

Like many Americans, you probably think it's up to you to determine how healthy your diet is. Well, the Food and Drug Administration has a different idea.

You see, the FDA is gunning for the trans fats in your diet. Last year the agency tentatively decided to revoke the status of partially hydrogenated oils as "Generally Recognized as Safe." A recent FDA update notes that if this decision is finalized, it could "mean the end of artificial, industrially-produced trans fat in foods."

But wait, you may say, trans fats are bad, so this is a good thing. Not exactly.

In the first place, it's almost impossible to eliminate trans fats entirely from your diet. Some are naturally occurring, and we don't have enough evidence to conclude that natural trans fat is associated with heart disease.

Secondly. if the amount of artificial trans fats we consume is a problem, it's one we already have well in hand. In 2003, we were consuming 4.6 grams per day, or 2 percent of a 2,000-calorie diet.

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By 2012, this number had dropped to only 1 gram of trans fat per day, or 0.5 percent of the typical adult diet. In short, even without the FDA trying to restrict consumption, we've had a remarkable 78 percent reduction.

The Institute of Medicine recommends that trans fat consumption should be as low as possible, not that we should seek to con­sume zero trans fat, whether artificial or natural. Yet the FDA is trying to eliminate the consumption of artificial trans fat. Why?

That leads to the third point, an overarching one that forms the backdrop of this issue. The fact is, the FDA is moving its mission, as established by the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic (FD&C) Act of 1938, "into novel areas that are unrelated to the food safety issues that the law is designed to regulate," writes Heritage Foundation Research Fellow Daren Bakst.

It's one thing for the FDA to address an ingredient that causes acute health problems. That is clearly within its purview, and is directly related to public safety. The consumption of trans fats, by contrast, is a matter for individuals to decide and make their own choices about.

The FDA's overreach, incidentally, is not merely unnecessary. If can turn out to be harmful. Information about what foods to consume and in what amounts is ever-changing, and the federal government is hardly the best arbiter of what's reliable. Consider the famous food pyramid, which urged people to consume a high level of carbohydrates -- 180 degrees off of what passes for conventional wisdom today. Plus, when one ingredient is removed by government fiat, the one that takes its place may well be worse.

This isn't just about trans fats. It's about the FDA's powers under the FD&C Act. "While it is unlikely that the FDA would seek to ban caffeine, sugar, and sodium that (are) added to food, these added ingredients are likely to be tar­gets of future regulation," Bakst writes. "It may start through voluntary measures, but that would be the first step toward mandatory regulation."

That's why Congress should amend the Act to ensure that the FDA cannot act outside of its proper authority.

In short, this is about government control. Who determines your diet? You, or some unelected bureaucrat in Washington?

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