TRANS-FAT CONTENT BECOMES MAJOR FOCUS

WASHINGTON -- Anticipating the first major change in the nutrition facts label since it was inaugurated 10 years ago, the supermarket industry is getting ready to work with food manufacturers to let the public know how to interpret the newly required labeling of trans fatty acids in foods, which can start anytime and must be done by Jan. 1, 2006.Trans fats is the third-highest food-safety concern

WASHINGTON -- Anticipating the first major change in the nutrition facts label since it was inaugurated 10 years ago, the supermarket industry is getting ready to work with food manufacturers to let the public know how to interpret the newly required labeling of trans fatty acids in foods, which can start anytime and must be done by Jan. 1, 2006.

Trans fats is the third-highest food-safety concern tracked by the NPD Group, a market research firm based in Port Washington, N.Y. Harry Balzer, NPD vice president, told SN the public's concern about trans fats has been tracked since last October. It ranks behind E. coli and salmonella, with 66% of consumers worried about that type of fat, which is produced by hydrogenated oils. Some manufacturers -- Frito-Lay, for one -- have reformulated products to remove these. Frito-Lay's Rold Gold pretzels, among other brands, already show zero trans fats on the label.

Trans-fat content will appear on a separate line on the food facts panel immediately after saturated fat, and consumers will be encouraged to consider it along with saturated fat and cholesterol information. "We don't want them to make the mistake of emphasizing one of these elements to the exclusion of the others," FDA Commissioner Mark McClellan said in a recent press briefing.

The costs of reformulating, if companies choose to do that, and relabeling products will vary by manufacturer, but the collective cost to the industry will be in the millions of dollars, said Michael E. Diegel, spokesman for the Grocery Manufacturers of America here.

Whole Foods Market, Austin, Texas, allows no products containing hydrogenated oils, the most common harmful source of trans fats. Wild Oats Markets is in the process of getting rid of the few it still has, such as Carr's crackers and Tofutti Cuties, said Sonja Tuitele, spokeswoman for the Boulder, Colo.-based grocery chain.

"We are in the process of getting back to the manufacturers to see if they are planning on reformulating or identifying what other similar products we might substitute," she told SN.