The Bush administration has today [19 September] urged the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to work quicker to finalise proposed rules on the stricter labelling of fatty foods, a move many health officials say will save thousands of lives from heart disease by promoting healthier eating.

The FDA first proposed in 1999 that manufacturers should produce food labels that reveal exactly how much trans-fat is present. The proposal has never been finalised however and consumers are still unaware exactly how much trans-fat they consume. Earlier today, FDA officials failed to explain the reasons for the time delay.

John D. Graham, Bush’s new regulatory chief at the Office of Management and Budget, urged the FDA to finalise the proposals in a letter, arguing: “This rulemaking appears to be a tremendous opportunity for the FDA to address the nation’s leading cause of death, coronary heart disease, and save thousands of lives.” He also sent a letter to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration yesterday, urging the agency to prioritise the placing of defibrillators in workplaces as well as airports and government buildings.

The move by the federal regulations office was highly unusual, but a federal health spokesman revealed that FDA officials would be considering Graham’s letter.

Officials believe that labelling the trans-fat content of foods would potentially save between 2,000 and 5,600 lives every year, as consumers learn to avoid the artery-clogging fat and manufacturers respond by improving recipes

Re-labelling or reformulating foods could leave manufacturers facing costs of US$400m if the proposals go ahead, but the FDA stresses that the nation could save billions of dollars in terms of health care expenses.

Currently, consumers can avoid some trans-fat by avoiding foods that are known to contain “hydrogenated” fat, as the most common source of trans-fat is partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.