NYC Bans Trans Fat

Chicago may be next

NEW YORK -- The New York City Board of Health voted unanimously earlier this week to require that all city restaurants remove artificial trans fat over the next 18 months, the first municipality in the nation to do so. Artificial trans fat increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, and death by increasing bad cholesterol and decreasing good cholesterol, it said.

Click here to view the final notice of adoption.

Health [image-nocss] Commissioner Dr. Thomas R. Frieden said, "The day we introduced this proposal, we emphasized that we would review public comments carefully. The message we heard was clear: New Yorkers overwhelmingly favor action to get artificial trans fat out of their restaurants. We also heard from restaurant operators who voiced real difficulties making the transition, and we've changed implementation plans to help restaurants implement the new regulations."

This proposal allows restaurants six months to switch to oils, margarines and shortening used for frying and spreading that have less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving. After 18 months, all other food itemsincluding all margarines and shorteningsmust contain less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving.

In response to comments received, the department will:

Allow more time (18 months instead of 6) to replace artificial trans fat used in baking and in deep-frying yeast doughs and cake batters. Provide technical support for restaurants and bakeries. Helpline staffed by recognized culinary science experts. Training for restaurant personnel. Resource materials, including brochures, practical tips and information about alternatives. Provide a three-month grace period (July 1, 2007 to Oct. 1, 2007) with no fines for items in the six-month phaseout category. Provide a three-month grace period (July 1, 2008 to Oct. 1, 2008) with no fines for items in the 18-month phaseout category. Create separate a category of violations that will be posted on the web, but will not determine pass/fail of routine sanitary inspections.

A total of 2,340 written comments were received (including 53 people who spoke at the October 30 public hearing). Overall, 2,266 (95%) comments supported the proposal and 74 were in opposition. Unqualified support for the proposed changes came from numerous leading national and local professional societies, academic institutions, and local hospitals and advocacy groups, including the American Medical Association (AMA), National Hispanic Medical Association (NHMA), American College of Cardiology (ACC), American Cancer Society (ACS), American Diabetes Association (ADA), American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), New York Academy of Medicine, Columbia University Medical Center, Harvard University, New York University, Institute for Urban Family Health and Northern Manhattan Perinatal Partnership.

Click here for a summary of all comments, including lists of those in support or opposition.

The ban won't apply to grocery stores or restaurants that serve prepared foods in the manufacturer's original packaging.

The city's foodservice industry has opposed parts of both new rules, and some restaurant companies have hinted that they might challenge them in court, added an Associated Press report.

Dunkin' Donuts will have to find a substitute for the 3.5 grams of trans fat in its Boston Kremes and tell customers up front that the snacks contain 240 calories.

Some restaurants have worried about tinkering with tried-and-true recipes. Concerns have been raised about whether there is enough trans-fat-free cooking oil on the market to supply the city's thousands of friers. Big fast-food companies had complained about the calorie provision, too, saying it would clutter menu boards with health data already available on fliers, charts and web pages.

This isn't over, said Dan Fleshler, a spokesperson for the National Restaurant Association. We don't think that a municipal health agency has any business banning a product the Food & Drug Administration has already approved.

Click here for the association's full official statement.

Some food makers stopped using trans fats voluntarily after the FDA began requiring trans-fat content on food labels. Wendy's International Inc. introduced a zero-trans fat oil in August. Yum Brands Inc.'s KFC and Taco Bell said they also will cut the trans fats from many foods in their kitchens. McDonald's has experimented with more than a dozen healthier oil blends for its french fries and has vowed to be ready for New York's ban.

Cooks originally began using partially hydrogenated vegetable oil as a substitute for animal fats because it is cheaper and has a longer shelf life. The FDA estimates the average American eats 4.7 lbs. of it each year.

New York's ban follows a national requirement, beginning this past January, that companies list artificial trans-fat content on food labels. Efforts are also being made to reduce the trans-fat content of snacks in school vending machines.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who banned smoking in bars and restaurants during his first term, said the changes could save lives. We're not trying to take away anybody's ability to go out and have the kind of food that they want in the quantities that they want, but we are trying to make that food safer, he said.

Many New Yorkers also were all for the ban, saying health concerns were more important than fears of Big Brother supervising their stomachs, AP said.

Meanwhile, Chicago is also considering such a ban, according to a Chicago Sun-Times report. It's highly possible that Chicago could be next," said Alderman Ed Smith, chairman of the Chicago City Council's Health Committee. "People are getting the message that health is important. These kinds of measures are important. When these things begin to pass around the country, it has the tendency to have a ripple effect."

Ald. Edward Burke first floated the idea of an all-encompassing Chicago ban on trans fats in June, two months after the council voted to ban the sale of the pricey, fat-laden liver delicacy called foie gras. Over the summer, he narrowed his proposal to focus on restaurant chains with at least $20 million in annual gross sales, and to phase out trans fats over two years. His latest draft adds a requirement that chains put warning labels on wrappers and packages of food cooked in trans fats, or post warning signs in their restaurants.

Mayor Richard M. Daley has put the trans fat proposal in the same category as the foie gras flap, the report said, ridiculing it as an intrusion into people's lives.