Americans are still consuming too much fat.

That means they are still running needless risks of not only obesity, but also high cholesterol levels and heart disease.For this problem, the individual bears ultimate responsibility. But the federal government is partly to blame because of outmoded policies that encourage the food industry to provide unnecessarily fatty meat and dairy products.

Some of those misguided policies were outlined this week in a report from the National Academy of Sciences. While many studies have confirmed the link between fat consumption and disease, the new report is said to be the first to address fully the role of food production.

Exactly what's wrong with federal food policies? In essence, they reward meat producers for bringing fatter animals to market.

For example, many foods, such as bologna and sausage, must have a minimum level of fat or be labeled "imitation." Likewise, the Department of Agriculture grades beef under the theory that the fatter it is, the tastier it is.

Instead, meat packers should be permitted to trim fat from animals at the slaughterhouse. That would encourage meat producers to grow cattle and sheep with a smaller percentage of fat because they no longer would be paid for the fat added to animals through heavy feeding and the use of some feed supplements.

Reducing fat need not mean eliminating animal products. Indeed, the National Cattleman's Association agrees that the grading system needs to be changed.

Though Americans are replacing animal fat with vegetable fat in their diets, some vegetable fats such as coconut or palm oil are loaded with unhealthful fatty acids. Soybean oil, however, is benign.

The Food and Drug Administration ought to insist that consumers be told on labels what kind of vegetable oil they are getting.

The federal policies favoring fatty foods have been in effect for as long as four decades. It's high time they were revised in line with the latest scientific discoveries about nutrition and health.