The Commission has authorized the staff to file comments with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concerning trans fatty acids in nutrition labeling. The comment, which is available on the FTC's Web site as a link to this press release, was filed at the FDA's request, in accordance with the reopened comment period for the agency's proposed Rule on this subject. The revised Rule includes a new proposal under which the trans fatty acid listing on foods would be accompanied by a footnote informing consumers that, "Intake of trans fat should be as low as possible."
As detailed in the comments, the staff supports the FDA's efforts to allow more truthful information about fats in labeling. They are concerned, however, that the unique treatment of trans fats on the Nutrition Facts panel may suggest to consumers that there is a significant qualitative difference between saturated fats and trans fats, and such a conclusion "appears to be inconsistent with current dietary advice." In addition, the staff notes that the FDA's concern about the lack of a daily reference intake (DRI) value estimate for trans fats in a recent report by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Science (NAS/IOM) "seems an insufficient basis on which to conclude that trans fats and saturated fats should be treated differently, given that the report indicated similar [dietary] problems associated with saturated fat." The concern, according to the comments, is that the proposed footnote "might lead consumers to conclude that trans and saturated fats have significantly different effects on health," and "might encourage consumers to focus more on trans fats than on saturated fats or vice versa."
Accordingly, while the staff concludes that the proposed listing of trans fats on the Nutrition Facts panel separate from a listing for saturated fats "will help to achieve the FDA's goal of informing consumers about trans fatty acids," the comments propose that the FDA engage in consumer research on application of the proposed footnote to fat disclosures "to determine which format is most informative for consumers and runs the least risk of inadvertently confusing them about the relative risks of saturated fat, cholesterol, and trans fat."
In addition, the comments note that "in evaluating the proposed footnote, it would be valuable to determine whether health messages about the effects of various fats on heart disease risks would improve consumer understanding."
The Commission vote authorizing the staff to file the comments with the FDA was 5-0. The comments represent the views of the Commission's Bureaus of Economics and Consumer Protection, and the Office of Policy Planning. (FTC File No. V030003; staff contact is Maureen K. Ohlhausen, Office of Policy Planning, 202-326-2632.)
Commission approval of final consent order:
Following a public comment period, the Commission has approved the issuance of a final consent order in the matter concerning Robert M. Currier. The Commission vote to approve the final consent order was 5-0. (FTC File No. 002-3211; staff contact is Lemuel W. Dowdy, Bureau of Consumer Protection, 202-326-2981; see press release dated November 5, 2002.)