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French fries are seen in Hollywood, California in a October 3, 2007 file photo. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Thursday proposed banning artificial trans fat in processed food, saying reducing such fat in the American diet could prevent 7,000 deaths from heart disease each year. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/files

U.S. FDA moves to ban trans fats, citing health risks

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By Toni Clarke and Ros Krasny

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Thursday proposed banning artificial trans fat in processed food, a move that was welcomed by public health advocates but which rattled vegetable oil markets and pushed prices down sharply.

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The FDA said reducing partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) from the American diet could prevent 7,000 deaths from heart disease each year.

If its proposal becomes final, the oils, the primary dietary source of artificial trans fat, would be considered food additives and could not be used in food unless authorized.

The ruling would not affect naturally occurring trans fat that occurs in small amounts in certain meat and dairy products, the agency said.

The FDA's proposal is subject to a 60-day public comment period.

Trans fats are common in a wide range of processed foods including crackers and cookies, frozen pizza and refrigerated dough, coffee creamers and ready-to-use frosting, said Mical Honigfort, a consumer safety officer at FDA.

The American Heart Association lauded the actions as a step forward in battling heart disease.

"We commend the FDA for responding to the numerous concerns and evidence submitted over the years about the dangers of this industrially produced ingredient," the AHA's Nancy Brown said in a statement.

Hydrogenation is a chemical process that converts liquid vegetable oils into solid or semi-solid fats, which are preferred for baking and have a longer shelf life.

The dominant vegetable oil used in the United States is soybean oil. The FDA's announcement sparked a rapid sell-off in Chicago soyoil futures prices by creating uncertainty about its impact on vegetable oil demand.

Soyoil fell by about 1.5 percent to 40.52 cents per pound, its lowest level since October 29, in heavy trading.

(Reporting by Toni Clarke and Ros Krasny; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick, Andrea Ricci and Marguerita Choy)

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