Trans Fats in Milk and Meat?

Bossy makes T-fatNothing in modern life is simple. The FDA began to require food labeling of poisonous trans fats about ten years ago when it was proven that these fats, produced in industrial chemical reactors, are hazardous to your health. So, they’re gone from the American diet now and are no longer causing heart disease, diabetes, and inflammatory conditions, right? WRONG!

Trans fats are stealthy. They get into foods despite government regulations, despite your watchfulness on package labels, and despite the fact that they are known health hazards. How do they do it?

I’ve written before about the deceptive labeling practices of food manufactures who, because of FDA permissiveness regarding labels, can actually list a quarter teaspoon of trans fat as 0 grams on a food label by rounding down from a number like 0.499 grams to 0.0 grams.

That tricky practice is tantamount to lying to the consumer. It is responsible for many people still eating incredibly large amounts of a substance known to be deadly. Next time you see a package front screaming “Zero Grams Trans Fat,” trust me, they mean there’s actually a bunch of it in the food, or else why not say “No Trans Fat?” The answer is that they’d go to jail for such a clear lie as that. You see, Zero Grams is their way of mathematically rounding off 0.499 just like we all learned to do in grade school, so it’s okay, right? WRONG!

Anyway, I haven’t gotten to the new bad news yet. Farmers and ranchers have found new ways of increasing the already-heavy burden of trans fats in our diet. They’re feeding them through the stomachs of cows and into the meat and milk we get from them. No, really.

Sure, many farmers and ranchers would refuse to do something as blatant as feeding industrial glop to their animals, but like I said, trans fats are tricky. One eye-opener for food scientists that’s come out in the last several years, is that cows’ stomachs are able to convert normal vegetable oils into trans fats. That’s right, incredible as it may seem, it’s true. So why don’t cows die from heart attacks and diabetes and inflammatory conditions? Simple. They don’t live long enough to. Beef cattle are trotted off to slaughter right after they’re loaded up with trans fats. Dairy cattle only have a few years of productivity before they’re trotted off to become dog and cat food. Only we humans and our pets hang around long enough to accumulate a load of trans fats and suffer the consequences.

You may wonder why Nature is so perverse as to allow cow stomachs to produce these poisons. Well, back up a bit on that thought. Nature? Think again. When a natural cow eats natural food, it grazes on grasses and a few other types of plants. Nothing it eats has a lot of fat in it that could be converted into trans fats in its stomach. The cow makes its own fats from sugars and other substances in its food. It’s only when farmers and ranchers overload the cow’s stomachs with oily, fatty foods like soy beans and palm kernels, that their stomachs, which are like four-chambered industrial reactors, convert the good fats to bad. So it’s modern feed-lot overfeeding practices that cause the problem, not Nature after all. Like so many others, this is a man-made disaster.

I wish I could offer a solution here but I’m just the harbinger of a new problem, not the one commissioned to solve it. One thing that would help would be for the FDA to do what I’ve already suggested and require labeling of trans fats in food in terms of milligrams. Then that number I mentioned would be 499 milligrams and it would round off to, well, 499 milligrams. On that day you’d suddenly be dismayed to see trans fats listed all over the place, including on cartons of milk. Are you ready for that day? For all our health’s sake, I’d say it can’t come too soon.

About Tom Hopp

Thomas P Hopp is a scientist and author living in Seattle. He writes medical thrillers, natural disaster novels, and the Dinosaur Wars science fiction series.
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