11/07/2013 10:06 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 18:58 EST

Trans fat ban proposal in U.S. could affect Canadians

Canadians could benefit under a U.S. proposal to require the food industry to gradually phase out trans fats, says a consumer advocate who wants Health Canada to follow the FDA's lead. 
On Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration proposed banning artificial trans fat in processed food, saying the elimination could prevent  20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 heart-related deaths each year in the U.S.

Manufacturers use trans fats to extend shelf life. Consuming trans fat raises low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or "bad" cholesterol, increasing the risk of coronary heart disease, the FDA says.
The U.S. regulator is proposing to make partially hydrogenated oils, the main dietary source of trans fats in processed foods, an additive that could not be used in food unless authorized.
"Canadian consumers may benefit indirectly by the Obama administration’s decision to get partially hydrogenated oils out of the food supply if American exports are as safe as their foods produced for domestic consumption," Bill Jeffery, national co-ordinator for the Centre for Science in the Public Interest, said in a statement.
"But, so long as the federal government here continues to ignore the scientific consensus on trans fat and give industry a free pass, Canada might also become a dumping ground for slightly cheaper and way more dangerous foods."

Last year, Jeffery's group obtained documents that showed the federal government planned to  limit the trans fat content of vegetable oils and soft, spreadable margarines to two per cent of the total fat content and all other foods to five per cent.  
The announcement was never made.
Food manufacturers and retailers in Canada and the U.S. have voluntarily reduced trans fat levels in many foods.  
But the FDA said trans fats can still be found in some processed foods, such as:

- Crackers, cookies, cakes, frozen pies and other baked goods.

- Microwave popcorn products.

- Frozen pizza.

- Vegetable shortenings and stick margarines.

- Coffee creamers.

- Refrigerated dough products (such as biscuits and cinnamon rolls).

- Ready-to-use frostings.

During a 60-day public comment period, the FDA is seeking comments, such as how the move would impact small businesses.
Natural trans fats are found in meat and milk from ruminant animals.
There is a 60-day public comment period for the FDA's proposal.