- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 8, 2007

Maryland is considering an outright ban on trans fats in restaurant food.

The Senate Finance Committee yesterday took up legislation that would bar restaurants from serving meals cooked with more than a half-gram of trans fat per serving.

While 16 states have proposed legislation that requires restaurants to inform customers which foods on the menu contain trans fats, Mr. Hubbard is seeking to make Maryland the first state to eliminate them.

Unlike other jurisdictions that have enacted bans, the legislation does not threaten a fine or license revocation. Rather, violators would be posted on the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s Web site until the violation is corrected.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, trans fats, which give pastries their flaky crusts and unusually long shelf life and provide a cheap oil to deep-fry potato chips, raise bad cholesterol, which in turn causes coronary heart disease. Most trans fats that are consumed are made by turning vegetable oils into solid fats through the use of hydrogen.

The House Health and Government Operations Committee held a hearing on similar legislation sponsored by Delegate James Hubbard, Bowie Democrat, last week. Restaurant owners voiced stiff opposition to the proposal.

“I’m a firm believer in public health,” Mr. Hubbard said. “The more we wait, the more people are going to be sick and have their arteries clogged.”

Sen. Jennie Forehand, Montgomery Democrat, is the lead sponsor of the bill in the Senate.

Although restaurants “110 percent agree” with the negative affects of trans fat, according to Melvin Thompson of the Restaurant Association of Maryland, the line is drawn at legislation that would ban the fats altogether. The group says that the elimination of trans fats should be a voluntary progression, just as the industry moved away from cooking with lard to trans fat in the 1980s.

As an example that the movement against trans fats may have gone too far, the restaurant industry cites reports of bakers forced to take butter out of their recipes because it contains small amounts of natural trans fats. The FDA says there is no difference between natural and artificially trans fats.

But the national frenzy against the harmful trans fats is sweeping the country. The California Assembly’s Health Committee on Tuesday approved a bill aiming to phase out the use of ingredients containing trans fats in restaurants by 2009.

Similar bills are being considered in Connecticut, Illinois and Massachusetts but only in Maryland and California would the ban be statewide. New York City and Philadelphia recently approved restaurant bans.

In the District, Health Committee Chairman David Catania, independent at-large, is expected to reintroduce a similar measure this year.

The trend away from trans fat is so popular right now that some of the most well known companies in the country are not waiting for governments to act. Starbucks, which sells millions of baked goods a day at its 8,700 U.S. stores, has asked all of the bakers who provide its pastries to eliminate any trace of trans fat by the end of the year. The change has already happened for stores in Washington and Oregon. California bakers are reworking recipes this month to try to meet a Starbucks deadline.

Disneyland has dumped trans fat and so have Universal Studios, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Taco Bell. McDonald’s and Burger King reportedly are working on a healthier cooking oil and Wendy’s already uses a zero-trans-fat oil.

The push for a healthy diet has reached even into the national pastime as America’s beloved minor league baseball team, the Durham Bulls, will eliminate trans-fat products at the park this summer.

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