- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 5, 2006

New York City restaurants will have to use trans-fat-free cooking oil under regulations adopted unanimously yesterday by the city’s Board of Health.

The board did give the restaurant industry time to find alternative oils that do not significantly alter the taste of foods.

The ban on trans fat will take effect in two phases. The first phase begins July 1, 2007. That phase will target oils used in fried foods and spreads. The second phase will begin July 1, 2008, and will affect oils used to make pastries such as cakes.

Since the proposed regulation surfaced earlier this year, the restaurant industry has been working to blunt additional efforts to ban trans fat in other cities.

“We are doing everything we can do prevent a ban from being adopted in any other city,” said Lynn Breaux, president of the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington. “This is one more regulatory harassment on restaurants.”

Those efforts include media campaigns and educating policy -makers about the amount of alternative oils available, Ms. Breaux said.

The American Heart Association warns that if restaurants are not given enough time to find an appropriate alternative, they may turn to ingredients like palm oil, which is heavy with saturated fat.

“We don’t think there are enough crops planted to fulfill the demand,” Ms. Breaux said.

Trans fats are artificially created through a hydrogenating process that allows the fat to become more solid than other fats. The benefits of hydrogenating fat for food manufacturers include an increased product shelf life and a less-expensive product than other fats such as butter or lard.

But trans fats have become increasingly linked to chronic health conditions such as coronary heart disease, diabetes, cancer and obesity. Trans fats also likely raise bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol at the same time. The Food and Drug Administration estimates the average American eats 4.7 pounds of trans fats each year.

At least some of the alternative cooking oil supply is produced by Monsanto Co. and DuPont Co., both leaders in genetically altering crops. DuPont and Monsanto are increasing production of soybeans that yield healthier oils.

DuPont will more than double production to as much as 500,000 acres, and Monsanto plans to triple production to 1.5 million acres of soybeans that yield healthier oil, said company spokesman Chris Horner.

McDonald’s Corp. had pledged in 2002 to use an alternative cooking oil but pulled back after finding the oil altered the taste of its products too much. Burger King is close to using an alternative oil on a trial basis, and Taco Bell, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pizza Hut, all owned by Yum Brands Inc., have switched to a trans-fat-free cooking oil.

New York City is the first city in the country to remove trans fat from restaurants. The D.C. Council is considering a bill, introduced by council member Phil Mendelson, a Democrat, that would require the city’s restaurants to label the amount of trans fat in a menu item.

That bill is not expected to be taken up during this legislative session, which ends on Dec. 19, but the council member intends to introduce the bill again in the next session, according to Beverly Wheeler, Mr. Mendelson’s chief of staff.

Somewhat ironically, the New York vote in favor of the ban comes on the same day the 21st Amendment was ratified, thus repealing the nation’s 13-year ban on consuming alcohol.

“It is a sad irony that the bill passed on the anniversary of the repeal of the Prohibition. Maybe now we’ll have ‘fat easies’ because we know there are ‘smoke easies,’ ” said Ms. Breaux, referring to the illegal smoking establishments that have sprung up in New York City as a result of the recent smoking ban in public places.

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