Trans fats lend foods texture and extend their shelf life, but at major cost to the public’s health. They lower “good” HDL cholesterol, elevate “bad” LDL cholesterol and can harden arteries. FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg has said doing away with them could prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths a year in the United States.
Large restaurants and foodmakers are already phasing out the use of partially hydrogenated oils and have turned to canola and other oils as a replacement. The producers of Oreo cookies, for example, transitioned in 2006 from partially-hydrogenated oil and today use canola oil, among other ingredients, as a substitute.
The result of the switch in some of Americans’ most beloved snacks?
“As far as I’ve heard, not a single consumer has noticed or complained,” said Michael Jacobson, executive director of Washington-based Center for Science in the Public Interest. “Food companies work very hard to make the improvement invisible.”
Farmers and industry experts said the amount of canola grown in Oklahoma soared in the past few years.
Oklahoma went from planting 140,000 acres in 2012 to 250,000 acres last year. Elsewhere, farmers in Oregon climbed from 7,300 acres planted in 2012 to 13,000 in 2013. In Washington, acreage during that period doubled from 15,000 to 30,000, and in Montana the amount planted rose from 51,000 to 55,000 acres, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
North Dakota is the top canola state, with 860,000 acres planted in 2013.
“We’ve brought a totally new cropping system to the region,” said Scott, the founder and president of the Great Plains Canola Association, who grows about 1,500 acres of canola at his farm in Pond Creek, Okla. “It’s kind of neat to sit back and watch an industry being created in the Southern Plains.”
Farmer Ryan Pederson, president of the trade group U.S. Canola Association, said many farmers have been accustomed to growing only one or two crops, such as wheat or corn, but are becoming more comfortable with growing an alternative plant. He said they’re seeing the payoffs in the form of a larger pocketbook.