Trans Fat Timetable

The food industry is rapidly approaching the January 1, 2006, federal deadline for including trans fat content on Nutrition Facts labels of product packaging. Many have already done so, and many have gone a step beyond, developing new formulations to eliminate trans fats from their products.
Specific to dairy, the majority of processors — if not all — are making these changes. And since most dairy products can claim “zero” on the side panel’s trans fat line, there is no time like the present to bring attention to the dairy case, highlight the natural nutrients found in milk and milk products, and revel in their inherent goodness.
In fact, many processors are ahead of schedule in complying with the requirement. Products from brands like Anderson Erickson, Stonyfield Farm, Tillamook, Blue Bunny and others sport Nutrition Facts panels with trans fat listings in place.
According to a Hotline explanation that the Washington, D.C.-based International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), issued in July 2003, virtually all dairy processors, as well as most food manufacturers, must disclose the amount of trans fat their products contain under a new regulation changing product nutrition labeling requirements. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published the new rule July 11, 2003; the action followed several years of consideration, a process in which IDFA has been extensively involved.
The Nutrition Facts panel for all non-exempt products must include trans fat content on a separate line below saturated fat. The new labels must declare trans fat content in grams, rounded to the nearest 0.5 gram below 5 grams and rounded to the nearest full gram above 5 grams. For products with less than 0.5 gram of trans fat, labels should declare trans fat as zero.
Since the FDA has not set a recommended daily value for trans fat, the rules will not require an RDV declaration. Products with less than 0.5 gram of total fat and make no fat, fatty acid or cholesterol claims are exempt from declaring trans fat on a separate line in the nutrition facts panel but must include the statement “Not a significant source of trans fat” at the bottom of the nutrition panel.
Conjugated fatty acids, including conjugated linoleic acids found in dairy, are not included in the definition of trans fats for the purposes of labeling.
At the same time the FDA issued its final rule on trans fat labeling, it also issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR) on two issues related to trans fat. In this ANPR, the FDA sought comments on potential trans fat claims, such as “trans fat free” and “reduced trans fat,” as well as disclosure and disqualifying levels of trans fat for products making nutrient content claims and health claims. The FDA also sought comments on a possible footnote on labels regarding trans fat, similar to one previously proposed by the FDA, which would read, “Intake of trans fat should be as low as possible.”
The FDA has since released examples of how labels should appear under the new rule. The trans fat line ought to appear directly below the saturated fat line, indented the same amount, and in plain text, although “trans” may be italicized.
IDFA’s preliminary analysis indicates that most dairy foods contain less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving, so manufacturers will be able to declare “0 grams” of trans fat in the Nutrition Facts panel. However, some premium ice cream products with bakery or confection flavorings or coatings that contain hydrogenated oils and some butter products may have more than 0.5 gram of trans fat per serving, and would require declaration of the amount of trans fat per serving. In either event, the rule requires companies to determine the trans fat content of almost all their products.
Intended to help its members compute the trans fat content without resorting to expensive testing, IDFA has conducted analytical testing of dairy components to develop a database for trans fat content of milkfat, similar to the nutrient database developed for label nutrient declaration prompted by the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990 (NLEA). IDFA has issued data on trans fat in milkfat so processors can calculate the amount of trans fat from dairy ingredients in fluid milk, cultured dairy products, ice cream and cheese products without having to run costly individual analysis on each product.
Most dairy foods must add the trans fat line to the nutrition panel. However, products that contain less than 0.5 grams of total fat and do not carry fat, fatty acid or cholesterol claims do not have to include the new line in the panel, but these products still have to add a line at the bottom of the panel stating the product is not a significant source of trans fat. Since most dairy products that contain less than 0.5 gram total fat are labeled as “fat free,” these products must contain the trans fat line in the nutrition panel.
In addition to gathering data on trans fat in dairy foods and commenting on the FDA’s ANPR, IDFA is working with many processors on labeling changes required by the new regulation. In the final rule, the FDA indicated that it had received requests for a longer implementation date for small businesses. At the time of issuing the final rule in 2003, the FDA declined to extend the implementation date for such businesses. However, since that time, the FDA has indicated it will develop a process to consider extensions on a case-by-case basis. Companies that are so small they’re exempt from any nutrition labeling do not need to add trans fat information to their labels.
Running Opposition
In its July 6, 2004, comments to the FDA, IDFA outlined its opposition on a variety of fronts regarding a proposed expansion to the trans fat labeling requirements for all food products, including dairy. The FDA is considering several proposals that would require additional trans fat information on food labels, including a special footnote or daily value level. “IDFA strongly supports the inclusion of scientifically based information on the food label. However, at this time, there is not enough research or scientific consensus about the levels of trans fat that are harmful to set a daily value or disclosure levels,” IDFA declares in the comments. “A footnote that calls a disproportionate amount of attention to trans fat ... could have a negative nutritional impact by causing consumers to pay less attention to other important nutritional information.”
IDFA says that, in addition to the dearth of research and an imbalance of attention to one nutritional factor, it is concerned about the hurdles of incorporating such significant label changes in a relatively short time period. IDFA has been working with dairy manufacturers to implement the current rule’s changes by the deadline.
Although dairy products contain very low levels of trans fat, nearly all dairy product labels will have to change in order to accommodate the new line in the Nutrition Facts panel, even if the product can state 0 grams of trans fat. An expansion of these requirements would require further changes to food labels, a costly move for processors, IDFA says.
Trans Action
Nutrition is second only to taste as a factor when consumers make food selections, according to information from the Dairy Council of California (DCC). As such, the nutritional labeling of food is an important tool to help consumers learn about a product, the nutrients it contains and any purported health benefits. Label claims provide consumers with point-of-purchase information and have shown to significantly impact purchasing and consumption behaviors.
The industry also should be cognizant of the increasing scrutiny that food products with added sugars are receiving, DCC says. There likely will be stricter regulations dictating foods allowed in schools and other settings based on sugar content as a means to control calorie intake. It may become necessary to reformulate certain products to meet such standards for placement in these settings. DCC says there’s untapped potential for the dairy industry to make use of label claims to help educate the consumer of the numerous health benefits of dairy when they are purchasing a product.
With research verifying the traditional benefits and uncovering novel benefits of dairy foods — as well as the FDA now allowing for qualified health claims — it seems there has never been a better time for the dairy industry to optimize the use of claims on product labels.
Sources: IDFA, FDA and the Dairy Council of California.
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