Assalamu Alaikum,

As we start a new year, we are always full of hope, looking forward to great opportunities and overcoming challenges. One area we hope to see improvement in is government oversight of scientific research.

As consumers, we rely upon government authorities to ensure the safety of the food chain. While we recognize the food industry is ever evolving, nonetheless, we expect the authorities to be one step ahead so that new innovations and new discoveries are fully vetted before they are approved for use in research and industry. In some cases, it may take a number of years to prove the safety of these innovations. Regulators must balance the impact of prematurely approving new study findings and stifling the industry with long, drawn out approvals.

The hope is that backtracking will not be necessary if the proper attention is given before approving new findings. For example, trans fats (partially hydrogenated oils) were initially thought to contribute to heart disease. However a 1980’s FDA commissioned study concluded they were not harmful, so they were approved as GRAS (generally recognized as safe). Being less expensive than saturated fats, they found many applications in food products. In the 1990s, clinical evidence showed an increase in heart disease associated with trans fat consumption. By the early 2000s, the FDA required the labeling of products containing trans fats, and just last year, the FDA announced that trans fats are not GRAS and must be eliminated from products within three years. So what do we say to all those who suffered with heart disease as a result of the initial decision to accept trans fats as GRAS?

Another example is the view on cholesterol. Until recently, the United States Dietary Guidelines suggested limiting the intake of dietary cholesterol from all sources. The new guidelines now suggest that it is the saturated fat in foods containing high cholesterol that is the problem, so the consumption of eggs, which are high in cholesterol but low in saturated fats, do not need to follow the previous limitations.

A final example is guidance on coffee consumption. While the previous guidelines did not directly address coffee and caffeine, and the new guidelines do not encourage non-coffee drinkers to start drinking coffee, the new guidelines do suggest that moderate coffee consumption of three to five cups a day can be incorporated into a healthy eating pattern.

Health-conscious consumers want to follow healthy eating patterns. As they rely on government guidance, they do not want to be surprised by new findings reversing previously issued guidance.


Muhammad Munir Chaudry, president