PA Gov. Urged to Ignore Findings of Trans Fat Panel

Rendell, Assembly Urged to Phase Out Artificial Trans Fat

February 2, 2009

WASHINGTON—Health advocates are urging Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell and the state's General Assembly to ignore a report from a task force on trans fat that recommended against a legislative phase-out of the harmful food ingredient. The Washington-based Center for Science in the Public Interest says the state should instead adopt legislation requiring restaurants to phase out artificial trans fat—the heart-attack-inducing fat that comes from partially hydrogenated oil.

Restaurants can easily replace artificial fat with heart-healthy soybean, canola, or other vegetable oils, or, in certain baked goods, with solid fats such as butter, palm oil, or lard, according to the group. Artificial trans fat has already been successfully phased out in New York City and similar measures have been enacted in the state of California, the cities of Boston and Philadelphia, and other jurisdictions. In those places and in supermarket aisles, foods that have been reformulated without partially hydrogenated oil almost always end up lower in saturated fat as well. In the rare event that saturated fat replaces trans fat gram for gram, that would still be an improvement, albeit a small one, according to CSPI.

"The report of this task force might have been credible were it written ten years ago, when the science on trans fat was less certain and the supplies of alternative oils less abundant," said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. "But it ignores the example of New York City, whose prohibition on using partially hydrogenated oils has proven so successful. Philadelphia restaurants have already emptied its deep fryers of partially hydrogenated oil, as required by that city’s law."

Though most major restaurant chains have already eliminated artificial trans fat, many smaller chains and independent restaurants and bakeries still market foods with trans fat. A statewide phase-out would require those companies to make the switch also.

Besides several government representatives, the task force included one representative from the Tasty Baking Company, two representatives from the Pennsylvania Restaurant Association, three representatives from Sweet Street Desserts, Inc., and other representatives from Utz potato chips and the food service giant Aramark. Two of the members, including the chairman, work for the Penn State Center for Food Innovation, which describes itself as a "unique, cooperative research venture between food industry and academia," and which counts among its numerous "corporate members" Hershey Foods, the convenience store chain Sheetz, Cargill, Dairy Queen, Nestle, Sysco, and others.

"Though several government employees were on the panel, its recommendations almost certainly would have been supportive of public health had bakeries, restaurant lobbyists, and other food industry officials not been so overly represented," said Jacobson. "The line-up reads more like the attendees list for a trade show than an objective task force."

The task force said in its report that the materials to educate restaurants about a legislative ban could be costly. But it simultaneously relayed the offer of the Center for Food Innovation to provide educational materials to restaurants and the public about trans fat. "Such materials could be easily modified to educate the food industry if trans fat were banned, or the state simply could have adapted New York City’s materials," wrote Jacobson in a letter to Governor Rendell.


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