Trans Fat Lawsuits

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 What are Trans Fats?

If an individual has ever consumed frozen pizza, microwave popcorn, or cookies, the chances are that they have already consumed a trans fat. Trans fat, also called trans fatty acid, is created using a process called hydrogenation.

During the hydrogenation process, a manufacturer adds hydrogen to vegetable oil. This transforms the oil into a solid fat as well as increases the shelf life of certain foods, including those listed above.

Unfortunately for consumers, trans fats are some of the worst types of fats that an individual can consume. Trans fats increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and other types of medical conditions which may affect an individual’s cholesterol levels and blood vessels.

Trans fats have been found to be so dangerous to human health that certain states, including California, have banned manufacturers as well as food services from adding trans fats to foods in the state. Nearly a decade after California banned trans fat usage in the state, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) followed suit and began to place nationwide restrictions on food manufactures. This was done in the hopes that that could prevent the rising number of consumer deaths that were caused by the consumption of foods containing trans fats.

What are Some Facts about Trans Fats?

A trans fat is a dietary fat. It is also the worst fat for human health, as noted above.

If an individual consumes too many trans fats in their diet, they are more likely to develop heart disease as well as other health problems. A trans fat is created when a liquid oil is turned into a solid fat, such as shortening or margarine.

There are many fried, fast packaged, and processed foods that contains trans fats, which includes:

  • Fried or battered foods;
  • Margarine and shortening; and
  • Dessert items, including:
    • doughnuts;
    • cakes;
    • cake mixes;
    • pies; and
    • pie crust.

Trans fats are also found in small amounts in animal foods, including red meat and dairy. Processed foods, however, are the main source of trans fats.

Trans fats are not necessary or beneficial to an individual’s body. These types of fats increase an individual’s risk of health problems, as previously noted.

Trans fats may also make an individual gain weight if they consume too many. They may increase an individual’s risk of type 2 diabetes.

Certain health problems may be reduced by maintaining a health weight, including diabetes and heart disease. Because trans fats are not necessary for the human body, an individual should consume as little as possible.

The American Heart Association along with the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend the following:

  • Fat should not make up more than 25% to 30% of an individual’s daily calories;
  • Saturated fat should not exceed 10% of an individual’s daily calories; and
  • Less than 1% of an individual’s daily calories should come from trans fat;
    • In a 2,000-calorie diet, this is about 20 calories or 2 grams.

What are Trans Fat Lawsuits?

A San Francisco public interest lawyer, Stephen Joseph, educated himself in 2003 on the dangers of trans fats. At that time, trans fats was a little-known term.

Mr. Joseph came to believe that his father passed away in part due to a steady diet of margarine and other trans fat-containing foods. At the time, these foods were considered healthy because they were low in fat.

Joseph filed a lawsuit against Nabisco. He requested an injunction, which is a court order for a party to cease engaging in an activity, to prohibit Nabisco from using trans fats in Oreo cookies.

California permits lawsuits to be filed against a manufacturer when a product contains a hidden danger that is not commonly known to most individuals in the community. In addition, Oreos are typically marketed to children, who could never be expected to be aware of trans fats.

Nabisco was served with the complaint and, shortly after, the media coverage of the lawsuit forced the company to agree to the injunction. Joseph then dismissed the lawsuit.

Since that time, worldwide public awareness of trans fats has grown exponentially. This has resulted in other manufacturers of processed foods voluntarily reducing the use of trans fats in their products.
The legal lesson to be learned from this situation is that when a lawsuit generates publicity, it can have a far-reaching domino effect. Joseph also sued McDonald’s in 2003.

McDonald’s had announced in 2002 that it would cease using trans fats in its oil. However, McDonald’s never followed through with this and did not inform the public of its decision.

McDonald’s eventually agreed to reduce its usage of trans fats. Joseph went on to bring lawsuits against other fast food chains across the country, including Burger King and KFC.

As a result of these lawsuits, many fast food chains, including Taco Bell, Starbucks, and Wendy’s are actively developing and using new oils that are low in trans fats. Other than California, no state regulates the amount of trans fats restaurants are permitted to use.

What Labeling is Required for Trans Fats?

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a regulation in July of 2003 that altered the Nutrition Facts label on packaged food products. As of January 1, 2006, food manufacturers are required to list the trans fat content on their nutrition label.

It is important to note, however, that this labeling rule permits a manufacturer to list zero if a product contains less than ½ of a gram of trans fat per serving. Because of this, a product may still contain a small amount of shortening or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil which shows zero trans fat on the label.

In addition, no percentage of daily value (%DV) is listed, as trans fat has no known nutritional value. The issuance of this labeling rule by the federal government is an example of how a government agency may publish rules and regulations that have the force of law, even though those rules have neither been voted on by Congress nor signed into law by the President.

The rule, however, is required to be based upon an existing statute or law over which an agency has been granted authority. In addition, the public is required to be given notice of the proposed rule, so that an individual can object prior to the rule being issued.

It is important to be aware that agencies such as the FDA do not make rules without conducting research. In this case, the FDA relied upon studies from the the National Cholesterol Education Program, the Institute of Medicine, and the National Academies of Science to come to a decision on the issue.

The FDA also collaborates with other governmental entities such as the United States Department of Health and Human Services and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to create the best rule benefiting the health of the public. Scientific reports related to trans fat indicated that the consumption of trans fats increases bad cholesterol levels as well as causes coronary heart disease.

Trans fats may be found in the following foods:

  • Shortening;
  • Cookies;
  • Crackers;
  • Fried foods;
  • Snack goods; and
  • Other processed foods that are made with partially hydrogenated oils.

Need a Defective Products Lawyer in your Area?

Trans fats are a substance found in many modern foods that are not beneficial to humans and, in some cases, are banned. If you or someone you know has been injured as a result of consuming trans fats, it may be helpful to consult with a defective products lawyer.

Your lawyer can advise you whether you may be able to recover damages for your injuries. Your lawyer will assist you throughout the lawsuit process, including representing you in court.

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