As a child, one of the more difficult decisions I had to make was what to have for lunch. Thankfully, my parents always helped out with that decision, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has begun to move towards taking that decision away from my parents and determining it on its own. Recently the FDA determined that it would begin to phase out artificial trans fats after it determined that artificial trans fat would no longer be listed as Generally Recognized as Safe. The proposal follows others made by Michelle Obama and the FDA to change the nutritional labels on food as part of the First Lady’s war on obesity. The problem with this is that the FDA does not have sufficient evidence or the legal authority to make this determination.
There is a fine line between what is considered to be safe and what is healthy. Typically if an item is not safe then it would not be healthy to consume; however, the inverse is not always the case. It may not be healthy for individuals to eat fried chicken, but that does not mean it is unsafe. Webster’s medical dictionary defines safe as,
Having a low incidence of adverse reactions and significant side effects when adequate instructions for use are given and having a low potential for harm under conditions of widespread availability.
While artificial trans fat may not be healthy for an individual to consume it would be difficult to say that they have a high potential for harm. The response to this policy is simple – don’t create it. If the FDA would look at its own statistics about the consumption of trans fat then it would quickly realize that consumption decreased drastically after making it known to individuals that it is unhealthy. In the FDA’s publication of its consumer update it stated that trans fat consumption has decreased since 2003 from 4.6 grams per day to 1 gram per day in 2012.
While this would seem like adequate progress by most it does not seem to be enough for the FDA. The publication further justifies the action of the FDA by citing a recent study that shows artificial trans fat consumption on any level should be avoided. However, with just one study concluding this, should the FDA really be pushing for total eradication of artificial trans fat? According to a 2008 study in the Harvard Health Publications there is no definitive difference between artificial and natural trans fats. This creates a problem for the FDA. If there is no difference between the health effects of one versus the other why not ban all trans fat? The problem that would come from such action is that a total eradication of trans fat could have unintended consequences. According to reports from the Institute of Medicine, a diet of zero trans fat could have adverse effects upon health.
Until the FDA can provide more information, definitively stating that artificial and natural trans fats have different effects on diets and that complete elimination from diets would not have adverse effects, it should not implement any policy.
While more research would need to be done about the health effects of trans fats the research is clear on the legal power that the FDA holds according to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938. According to this act the FDA can ban a substance if it is “deemed to be used for the purposes of deception or is being packaged in unsafe or deleterious conditions.” Neither of these occurs when companies are using trans fat in their food, due to the fact that the FDA requires that all trans fat levels be written on the nutritional label of all foods.
The problem runs deeper than simply should people consume artificial trans fat, instead, the FDA is producing an Orwellian system that empowers a mentality of “big brother.” At this point in America it is the job of every individual to determine what they would like to eat, not the government’s. Instead of abusing the precautionary principle, by banning artificial trans fat at the first chance it has, the FDA should allow for greater research to be done. God allowed for all humans to have control over their own actions. By that same notion why should the government take that away from its citizens in a folly attempt to further the First Lady’s agenda? As soon as the government begins to treat adults as children the citizenry will begin to lose any sense of personal responsibility. They begin to become dependent upon the government to instruct them in how to live their own lives. Where exactly does this end? It is time for the FDA to follow its own guidelines instead of creating more for the American people to follow.
Access to health care is a basic requirement of a just social order. Physician Donald Condit, drawing on an impressive array of empirical research, skillfully applies the principles of Catholic social teaching to this vital area of concern.