FDA: Trans fats are banned starting in 2016

All I want out of life is a little kindness and the right to eat fistfuls of cocktail-weenie frankenpizza. Now I’ll have to settle for kindness. Kudos to the FDA and Uncle Sam for saving me from the consequences of my cloddish insistence on occasional unhealthy splurges.

Silver lining: At least some trial lawyers will get fabulously rich.

The local bans set the precedent for FDA’s move, but the federal government’s decision has much broader implications, especially if it can be interpreted to mean there is no safe level of trans fat, said Michael Reese, an attorney and partner at Reese LLP, a firm that regularly sues food companies for misleading consumers.

FDA’s ruling on trans fat is likely to change the legal landscape and “really open up the floodgates on strict liability claims,” he said.

Reese, who has already sued a handful of food companies, including Wendy’s and Unilever over their use of trans fat, said the plaintiffs’ bar may first target products containing the ingredient if they have the aura of being healthy or are marketed to children. He contends that food companies have known for decades that partially hydrogenated oils are linked to cardiovascular disease and there’s “really no excuse” for keeping them in food products when alternatives exist…

“Litigation is not looming, it is a reality,” said one food industry lawyer, pointing to the fact that the Weston firm has already filed trans fat lawsuits and to a recent Washington Legal Foundation article that called FDA’s trans fat decision “a gift to the litigation industry.”

The FDA has required food manufacturers to list trans fats on nutrition labels since 2006. Public awareness about the health consequences of eating too much of them has cut consumption of trans fats by 78 percent over the same period, a spectacularly successful public education campaign. But if they’re already being phased out thanks to consumer pressure, some critics are wondering today, why do we need the feds legislating a phase-out? The answer, I suspect, is that the strategy was always to ban them altogether; the labeling requirement was just a transition phase designed to give consumers and manufacturers time to adjust, knowing that once supply and demand shrunk far enough, a total ban would be easier politically. Smoking has declined tremendously over the past 50 years but I’m sure we’re closer to a ban now, after demand has already withered, than we were when it was hugely popular and killing many more people. Public education will shift the behavior of those who are willing and able to change their health habits. For the diehard indulgers, there’s always mandates.

What’s next? Who knows?

“It’s certainly counter to the idea of American liberty and freedom,” said Daren Bakst, from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative thinktank.

“It’s an overreach by the agency. The public will be extremely concerned.”…

“The industry has reduced the amount of trans fat in food products and the consumers are eating far less trans fat,” he said. “The question is: why in the world are they trying to address this now when it’s already voluntarily going down?…

“These trans fats do still exist, they are incredibly unhealthy. But this is moving from telling us and educating us to making the decision for us,” Gunlock said. “With freedom comes the freedom to make bad decisions.”

In an alternate universe, where Prohibition never happened, earnest progressives are right now busily making the case that alcohol overindulgence is tremendously unhealthy and that we should at least consider restricting hard liquor to address the crisis. Who knows? Maybe in another 50 years they’ll get back there. Campus life has turned neo-Victorian; why shouldn’t the temperance movement get another crack at success?

Exit question via MKH: What happens when, as they did with salt and cholesterol, scientists discover that trans fats aren’t as bad for you as they thought?