Matt Cheung’s uninformed article (Banning Trans Fats–How Important Is It?, Jan. 16) has no place in Food Safety News, unless the latter now has a fiction section.
Mr. Cheung questions whether it makes sense for states to be devoting resources to banning artificial trans fat from restaurants. Of course it does, particularly when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture have shown no inclination–except for FDA’s valuable labeling requirement on packaged foods–to expunge artificial trans fat from the food supply. The states’ actions have had a salutary effect on spurring companies big and small to get rid of the most harmful oil of all. Mr. Cheung states that “[T]he inevitable inconsistencies will likely lead to less industry compliance,” but he doesn’t provide–because it doesn’t exist–a shred of evidence that the laws have been inconsistent or that industry has not been able to fully comply.
Though Cheung stated, “When a restaurant stops using trans fats it likely uses saturated fats instead,” he’s simply wrong again. Restaurants deserve credit for replacing partially hydrogenated oil with mostly polyunsaturated oils, which reduce the risk of heart disease.
Likewise, he says about snack foods, “But look at the nutrition label and you will find that they still use plenty of saturated fats.” Wrong again. For instance, Frito-Lay, the biggest maker of snack foods, switched to unsaturated oils that are low in saturated fat.
Then he suggests that trans fat should not be banned from restaurants when other harmful substances, like salt, abound. Different issues need to be handled separately. First, trans fat is unique, because it is so harmful and so easily replaced with more-healthful oils. There’s been a massive switch away from trans over the past several years without any disruption of taste or cost. Excessive salt, too, causes great harm…and levels can and must be reduced. In fact, New York City’s health department, following the lead of the British government, has proposed sensible sodium-reduction targets for manufactured and restaurant foods. I suspect that the FDA shortly will join that effort.
Finally, Mr. Cheung says that we should focus on the immediate harm caused by Salmonella and other pathogens, the focus of Marler Clark’s litigation, rather than the longer-term harm caused by trans fat. Putting aside the fact that trans fat likely has been causing tens of thousands of unnecessary fatal heart attacks annually, we can and should be addressing both hazards.
Michael F. Jacobson, Ph.D., is the executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. CSPI has long sought reductions in foodborne pathogens and reductions in artificial trans fat and salt, in restaurant foods, packaged foods, and fresh foods.