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Is New York City Backtracking on Plans to Kick Trans Fat Out of Restaurants?

Posted Dec 18 2008 8:11pm

Has New York's health commissioner Dr. Thomas R. Frieden caved to pressure from restaurant owners and food industry industry representatives in the Big Apple, who moaned that they needed more time to get trans fats off of their menus?

Dr. Frieden, speaking at a breakfast sponsored by Crain's New York Business, said that the new regulations would be modified to give restaurateurs more time to develop recipes that contain no more than half a gram of trans fat per serving, according to the New York Times   and CBS News.

At least Dr. Frieden didn't buy it when restaurant executives whined that they'd face a shortage of cooking oil and other ingredients that would comply with the new rules, calling the idea of lack of supply a "non-issue."

Sounds ridiculous that there just aren't enough alternative oils to go around when even nationwide fast food chains like KFC, Wendy's and others have either eliminated or cut back trans fat, as The New Times reported. If fast food companies, with thousands of eateries nationwide, can find enough other oil to use in recipes, why can't New York restaurants do the same?

But New York's health commissioner bought into the idea that it would take time for restaurateurs to develop tasty recipes for baked goods that meet the stringent new standard, though. ('Course, for that mattter, you know that this blog isn't exactly a fan of processed, baked foods.)

Anyhow, under the initial ban-trans-fat proposal, New York's 24,000-plus restaurants and street vendors would have been required to use oils, shortenings and margarines that met the new threshhold by July 2007, and they would have had until July 2008 to make everything on the menu comply. But, with this latest announcement, Dr. Frieden didn't say how he'd changed his original plan. Nor did he set a new deadline for when trans fat would actually get the boot. Does this mean that New York City will raise the ceiling on how much trans fat will be allowed? 

What happened, Dr. Frieden? Just a few weeks ago, you passionately sounded the alarm about what trans fat does to people's health.

As health ezine Nubella reported, you allegedly remarked, ""New Yorkers are consuming a hazardous, artificial substance without their knowledge or consent," Like lead in paint, artificial trans fat in food is invisible and dangerous, and it can be replaced. While it may take some effort, restaurants can replace trans fat without changing the taste or cost of food. No one will miss it when it's gone."

But now the restaurant industry needs more time to stop cooking food that kills people? Make no mistake, research reveals that trans fats can be deadly.

In fact, the Harvard School of Public Health believes that as many as 100,000 lives could be saved each year if we did nothing else but eliminate trans fat.

Sounds pretty urgent to me. Why on earth should we wait to save thousands of people from their early deaths?

Let's just hope this stall tactic isn't the first step to ditching the ban altogether. That would be an awful letdown, and a disgrace, frankly.

Thanks to Jennifer Moore of the SUGAR SHOCK! Blog Squad

Note from Connie: Let's thank Jennifer for her interesting perspective on this issue. You'll be hearing more from Jennifer from here on in (after I've edited her entries, of course). Although journalism is my love and I really enjoy posting blog items frequently, the reality is that more and more of my time these days is taken up with promoting and giving interviews, etc. my book SUGAR SHOCK!, which hits bookstores soon. But I still want to keep you up to date on the SUGAR SHOCKING! news.

Also, in case you're out of the loop and don't know what trans fats are, they're typically used for frying and baking (think French fries and doughnuts) and in processed, snack foods foods like cookies and crackers. You can even find them lurking in pizza dough or ready-to-go concoctions like pancake or hot chocolate mix. They're also found in vegetable shortenings and some margarines.

These fats, as the FDA explains it, occur "when manufacturers add hydrogen to vegetable oil--a process called hydrogenation. Hydrogenation increases the shelf life and flavor stability of foods containing these fats." Ultimately, research shows they're unhealthy because they raise your bad cholesterol and lower your good cholesterol.

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