New York City considers stricter regulations on trans fat

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Health Board of New York City on Tuesday presented a plan to ban trans fatty acids (or trans fat) from the eateries in the city. The ban would not involve grocery stores, or natural trans fat that is present in dairy products or meat from ruminants.

The proposal follows a campaign last year to encourage restaurants to cut down on using trans fat themselves, but recent surveys show that the campaign was unsuccessful. In 2003, the city already instituted a smoking ban in restaurants, which was met with protest, but the measure has been copied in many other states since.

In Western countries, most trans fat in food today is the result of industrial processing, and has been linked to coronary heart disease. Frying oils, shortening and margarines with trans fats have easier storing requirements. Artificial trans fat is considered by some experts to be even more dangerous than natural trans fat.

The new limit would be at 0.5 grams of trans fatty acids per menu item, whereas a typical serving of French fries contains about 8 grams. It would be instituted in several phases, allowing time for eateries to adapt.

The plan would also have serious implications for both fast food chains and restaurants. A spokesperson for the New York State Restaurant Association reacted with disbelief, stating that “Labeling is one thing, but when they totally ban a product, it goes well beyond what we think is prudent and acceptable,” referring to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s requirement for food labels to list trans fat, a measure taken last January.

The Boards Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Frieden on the other hand said the ban would be a challenge for cooks, but substitute oils can easily be found. Comparing it to lead paint, he said “It is a dangerous and unnecessary ingredient”, adding that “No one will miss it when it’s gone.”

A similar ban is being considered in Chicago, but would only target companies with annual revenues over $20 million, thereby targeting exclusively major fast-food restaurants. The U.S. brands Wendy’s, Crisco, Frito-Lay, Starbucks, Subway, and Kraft’s have already taken action to remove trans fat from some of their products.

Denmark became the first country in the world imposing strict regulations on trans fatty acids in March 2003. McDonalds consequently started using trans fat-free oils in Denmark, but has not yet switched over in the United States.

A public hearing is scheduled on October 30, and a final vote on the proposal is scheduled for December.

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