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Food Safety and Regulation

The FDA's recent proposal to ban artificial trans fats raises questions about the role and efficacy of some food regulations.

Published November 07, 2013

Food Safety and Regulation

The Food and Drug Administration recently moved to effectively ban artificial trans fats, reports the New York Times. "The Institute of Medicine has concluded that there is no safe level for consumption of artificial trans fats...The rules could prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths from heart disease each year."

However, many bristle at the idea of government regulations on health choices (see #nannystate). Can&mdash—and should-policy influence people's diets? Regulations on marketing, availability, price incentives, etc. may "create new social norms over time, where people grow up valuing health and seek out opportunities to lead healthy lifestyles," argues Jo Jewell, Policy and Public Affairs Manager at World Cancer Research Fund International.

Dr. Gary Acuff, Director of the Center for Food Safety at Texas A&M University and a member of the The Sackler Institute for Nutrition Science Working Group dedicated on agriculture, food, and nutrition, paints a more complicated picture.

"Our regulations are sort of a mishmash of strong science, public opinion, and political science mixed together. There are some that are well grounded in science that make perfect sense and are very protective to consumers. And there are some that have become very outdated. Overall they're protective, but sometimes they're a little strange. What we really need to have is more transparency, both from the food industry about what's in our food and from the regulatory agencies about why they're regulating what they're trying to control."

Common sense does go a long way.

"One of the things I tell consumers is that you have a lot more power than you think you do in terms of food safety. Learn a few things and apply them and you can take care of yourself in most cases. The single most important thing you can do for yourself in terms of food safety is to use a thermometer. You should get a digital rapid read thermometer and check the temperature of everything you cook. The second thing is to make sure you don't cross contaminate things in the kitchen or dining area. If you buy chicken or beef or anything, you have to assume-even though the government says it's safe or it's been inspected—that it could contain bacteria that could make you sick. Everything it touches needs to be cleaned. That includes your hand, utensil, counter, cutting board-anything," says Dr. Acuff.

Dr. Acuff  is a member of The Sackler Institute for Nutrition Science's Working Group on technology and innovation in agriculture, food, and nutrition. This cross-disciplinary group of experts includes the areas of: food chemistry and biochemistry, food microbiology and biotechnology, food processing and engineering, dairy processing, value-added foods, and food labeling. The Working Group's goal is to bring innovative perspectives to applying current technological advances in this field to benefit populations suffering from malnutrition.  Currently the Working Group is developing a series of conferences with the first one on December 12th at the Academy. Frontiers in Agricultural Sustainability: Studying the Protein Supply Chain to Improve Dietary Quality will explore sustainable protein innovations in food science and programming that are aimed at producing the required quality and quantity of protein to consumers worldwide. To learn more and register, visit The other two conferences in the series are:

§  Consumer Behavior and Agricultural Innovations Related to Optimal Nutrition, March 26, 2014

§  Food Safety Considerations for Nutrition Advances, November 6, 2014


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the articles on are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the New York Academy of Sciences.