A proposal to ban most artery-clogging trans fats from New York’s restaurants could save thousands of lives at little cost to restaurateurs, supporters of the initiative said on Wednesday. But a leading industry group called for dialogue with city authorities to modify their "Orwellian regulation," which comes as many fast-food restaurants are already trying to reduce trans fats in response to shifting consumer demand.
The New York City Board of Health on Tuesday proposed a near total ban on artificial trans fats — those that are made synthetically when food processors harden fat to make it more like butter in a process called hydrogenization.
Such oils gives french fries their crunch. They also contribute to heart disease by raising the body’s "bad cholesterol" and reducing the "good" cholesterol.
The initiative faces what promises to be a contentious public hearing on October 30 and approval or denial before the end of the year, potentially affecting everything from the finest restaurants to doughnut carts pushed by recent immigrants.
"We’re going try to get into a dialogue with the Health Department where perhaps we can convince them to modify their proposal where it’s not a broad-brush, one-size-fits-all, Orwellian regulation," said Charles Hunt of the New York State Restaurant Association.
The proposal would give restaurants six months to switch to oils, margarines and shortening that have less than 0.5 gram of trans fat per serving. After 18 months, all other food would also need to contain less than 0.5 gram of fat per serving.
"This is a very appropriate for a city health department that is responsible for food safety in restaurants. Clearly trans fats are causing large numbers of premature deaths and disability," said Walter Willett, a leading U.S. nutritionist at the Harvard School of Public Health.
"Restaurants are really the primary source of trans fats for most people, so we’ve calculated that this could really prevent thousands of deaths per year, just in the New York area," he said.
Willett called on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to enact a similar measure nationwide.
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.
The Dunkin’ Donuts chain in 2004 started removing trans fats from its bagels, muffins, and cookies and is researching alternative ways to make the poster child of trans fats — doughnuts — healthier while still satisfying customers.
"We’ve served million of servings, and customers cannot tell the difference in taste," said Bob Bertini, a spokesman for Wendy’s. "It was cost-neutral to us — using the new oil costs no more than the old oil."