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Unilever Pushes Trans Fat One Step Closer to Extinction

Unilever this week became the latest company to get rid of artificial trans fat, an ingredient linked to heart disease. The company is removing all partially hydrogenated oil (a source of trans fat) from I Can't Believe It's Not Butter, Country Crock and other spreads. The phasing-out will start next month and be completed by mid-2010.

This isn't good news for Unilever rival Smart Balance Inc. Smart Balance had already cut artificial trans fats from its spreads, and it's been aggressive in marketing that fact.

The Food and Drug Administration allows companies to claim zero trans fat on product packaging as long as the actual amount is less than .5 grams per serving, and Smart Balance recently set out to inform consumers of this and warn consumers that Unilever products did contain trans fat, despite the labeling. Smart Balance shares fell at Unilever's announcement.

New York City, California and Philadelphia all have bans on artificial trans fats in restaurants, and a growing number of consumers now consider trans fat content when purchasing products.

Cargill last week completely stopped production of hydrogenated oil at its plant in Wichita, Kansas, saying demand has dropped 75 percent over the past five years.

To clarify: there are trace amounts of naturally occurring trans fat in dairy, meat and other products, but artificial sources like hyrdrogenated oils contain a much higher percentage.