NY bans most trans fats from restaurants

From reuters –

By Daniel Trotta

NEW YORK, Dec 5 (Reuters) – New York City banned most artificial trans fats from restaurants on Tuesday, forcing national fast-food chains and mom-and-pop diners alike to phase out artery-clogging oils from their cooking.

The law is believed to be the first of its kind in the United States and will require restaurants including McDonald’s Corp. to eliminate trans fats by July 2007.

Restaurants will be given a three-month grace period before facing fines. Those making doughnuts and other baked goods will be given until July 2008 to phase out trans fats, which are made synthetically when food processors harden fat to make it more like butter in a process called hydrogenization.

The process is used to extend product shelf life and enhance the texture of some foods.

Trans fats increase the risk of heart disease and stroke by increasing levels of so-called “bad” cholesterol known as LDL, and reducing levels of “good,” or HDL, cholesterol.

The restaurant industry opposed the measure as costly, saying it should be allowed to continue voluntary efforts to eliminate trans fats. The industry has threatened to sue.

“We’re keeping all our options open, including potential litigation,” said Dan Fleshler, a spokesman for the National Restaurant Association.

Another industry representative called the initiative costly and feared it could spread across the country.

New York officials said nearly all artificial trans fats could be easily replaced with healthier options, and that they expected to withstand any lawsuits challenging the ban.

“We know that trans fats increase the chance of heart attack, stroke and death, and they don’t have to be there,” New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden told reporters.

“People are no longer dying of typhoid fever. They are dying of heart disease,” Frieden said, calling the matter a public health issue.

Trans fats occur naturally in some meat and dairy products, which would not be subject to the ban. Instead the law targets nearly all artificial trans fats that are chemically added to oils that give french fries their crunch and help create the texture of pie crusts and doughnuts.

VOLUNTARY REDUCTION

America’s fast-food chains, whose foods are among the most laden with trans fats, are moving toward voluntary reduction.

Wendy’s International Inc. has reduced trans fats by switching to a different cooking oil, while McDonald’s Corp. has been trying since 2002 to reduce trans fats in its french fries.

“We will comply with the New York Board of Health’s proposal,” McDonald’s said in a statement on Tuesday, adding that it was not prepared to announce a national rollout for an alternative to trans fats.

The privately held Dunkin’ Donuts chain in 2004 started removing trans fats from bagels, muffins and cookies, and is researching alternative ways to make its mainstay doughnuts healthier while still satisfying customers.

In a separate vote, New York City’s board of health also ordered restaurants to standardize how they display the number of calories in dishes on their menus in an effort to combat obesity.

That law, to take effect July 1, applies to restaurants that already report calorie counts and requires them to display the numbers on menus and menu boards. It is expected to affect about 10 percent of New York City’s restaurants.

It was also opposed by the restaurant industry, which complained that both the trans fat and calorie reporting measures could translate into price increases for consumers.

“It’s going to be grossly expensive to make these changes and there may be the possibility that some people who are currently providing the (calorie) information may choose not to do it anymore,” said Charles Hunt of the New York State Restaurant Association.

“Anything that happens in New York spreads and that’s why the National Restaurant Association is so concerned about this,” Hunt said.

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