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New York Considers a Trans-Fat-Free City


As we mentioned, the New York City Board of Health is considering a plan to force restaurants there to severely limit their use of trans fats. The board is also considering a proposal to make restaurants that serve burgers and fries and other standard fare list the calories in their products right on the menu.

Here's NPR's Margot Adler.

MARGOT ADLER: The hearing on trans fats was dominated by those who want to limit them, a veritable parade of doctors, nutritionists, school lunch officials, politicians - with a sprinkling of opposition expressed by restaurant trade associations and a couple of libertarians.

Until the 1990s, most people thought trans fats, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, were healthier alternatives to butter. They were also cheaper and restaurants switched. Then scientific research showed that trans fats had a direct impact on heart disease.

New York City Council member Peter Vallone typified many speakers.

Mr. PETER VALLONE (New York City Council): Trans fats kill kids. Trans fats kill adults. Ideally, the federal government should be doing this, but the food industry has so much influence there that Washington has not gotten up off its trans fat filled backsides to do anything.

ADLER: And by the way, he said, those ads the other side is using saying ice cream is going to be taken away from little girls -

Mr. VALLONE: Some of the people who oppose this are telling big fat lies.

ADLER: Fat was definitely the word of the day. Speaking against the ban on trans fats and against listing calories on menus were a number of restaurant trade association officials. Their main concern, a lack of supply of alternative oils that would hurt small businesses.

Sheila Cohn Weiss, who directs nutrition policy for the National Restaurant Association, said it would be years before crop supply was adequate.

Ms. SHEILA COHN WEISS (National Restaurant Association): Some restaurants will have no choice but to revert to higher saturated fat oils. We don't believe the solution for New York City is to simply follow Denmark's lead, where food service companies have simply substituted palm oil for partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.

ADLER: At least one doctor disputed that Denmark had increased the use of saturated fats. Other opponents of the two plans said mandating a quick change would cause disaster in the New York economy. After all, they said, many restaurant owners didn't even know what trans fats were.

And Audrey Silk, who campaigned long and hard against the smoking ban in the city, said I told you so. Food is next on the slippery slope of government regulations in the nanny state.

Ms. AUDREY SILK: We resent for public health a role and a power that it's never historically had and never was supposed to have. Social engineering, eliminating choice and coercing behavior is not the American way.

ADLER: But there were few voices echoing these sentiments. Even some of the restaurant owners, and few were there to testify came out of their way, in some cases from California and Chicago to give support to the trans fat ban.

Ms. INA PINKNAY: Winning the best fried chicken in Chicago contest didn't hurt.

ADLER: Ina Pinknay of Ina's Restaurant in Chicago said she made the switch several years ago, and not only did it improve the fried chicken, it didn't hurt her pancake batter or her carrot cake.

A representative from Wendy's said his only objection was insisting that calories be listed only for big chains that already provide nutritional information.

Across the street, two demonstrations took place - one pro and one con. The only advantage of the anti-trans fat crowd was they gave away free food. Heather Umla(ph) and Ken Hoag(ph) pushed samples of potatoes and muffins toward me.

ADLER: What are these? What are these that we have here?

Ms. HEATHER UMLA: A trans fat free muffin that we made from Fancy Go Catering. We're an organic catering company. We support the use of non-trans fat oils.

ADLER: And what are those over there?

Mr. KEN HOAG: Those are baby yellow potatoes and they're fried in the Whole Harvest No-Trans Oil, expeller pressed oil.

ADLER: The New York City board of health is supposed to make its decision by December.

Margot Adler, NPR News. New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Margot Adler died on July 28, 2014 at her home in New York City. She was 68 and had been battling cancer. Listen to NPR Correspondent David Folkenflik's retrospective on her life and career
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