WASHINGTON, Aug. 5, 2015 - The food industry is asking the Food and Drug Administration to allow the continued use of partially hydrogenated oils in a wide variety of foods. 

A petition filed by the Grocery Manufacturers Association seeks approval for use of trans fat sources in products including breakfast cereals, soups, frozen pizza, cookies and nutrition bars. 

Because of concerns about the effect of trans fats on cardiovascular heatlh, the FDA announced in June that it was removing their status as “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS), Food companies will have to phase out the use of the ingredients by 2018 unless FDA grants their petition for continued usage. 

FDA’s action doesn’t effect naturally occurring trans fats, which are found in beef, milk and other dairy products. Most partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) are made from soybeans and cottonseed.

In the petition, GMA argues that the trans fats levels it is seeking approval for would pose no more risk than the naturally occurring levels of trans fats. 

“Our food additive petition shows that the presence of trans fat from the proposed low-level uses of PHOs is as safe as the naturally occurring trans fat present in the normal diet,” said GMA’s chief science officer. Leon Bruner.

“It’s important to know that food and beverage companies have already voluntarily lowered the amount of trans fat added to food products by more than 86 percent and will continue lowering PHO use to levels similar to naturally occurring trans-fat found in the diet.”

According to GMA, studies show that trans fats can account for as much as 1.5 percent of the daily energy intake without affecting cholesterol levels. If the petition is granted, 90 percent of the population would get less than 1.33 percent of their daily intake from the combination of natural and added trans fat, GMA argues. 

The trans fat levels GMA is petitioning include 0.01 grams per 100 grams of protein drinks, 0.47 grams per 100 grams of cookies and one gram per 100 grams of popcorn.

“GMA continues to believe PHOs are GRAS on the basis of common use in foods; nonetheless, GMA is committed to working cooperatively with FDA and submits this food additive petition in the interest of furthering the science and understanding regarding PHOs,” according to the petition's executive summary.

The amounts that GMA is requesting approval for are lower than those found in some products now, but they are still significant, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, an advocacy group.

“There's little, if any, room left for the industrially produced kind from partially hydrogenated oils,” said CSPI President Michael Jacobson. “But companies apparently want to market foods with a quarter or half a gram of trans fat in a serving. For some people, such as consumers of microwave popcorn and Cinnabons, the amounts could add up to a significant health risk.”

By removing the GRAS status, FDA is reclassifying partially hydrogenated oils as a food additive, which require the agency’s approval. The agency said the action would prevent hundreds of heart attacks a year.