Most trans fats are found in shortenings, margarines and frying oils, and can be found in foods ranging from french fries and doughnuts to pie crusts and fried chicken. The proposed ban would require national fast-food chains such as McDonald's, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Dunkin' Donuts to change recipes and cooking methods to eliminate the fats.
If passed, the proposal would require restaurants to eliminate trans fats from cooking oils, shortening and margarine by July 1, 2007, and from all other foods by July 1, 2008. The ban would not apply to grocery stores or to foods that contain naturally occurring trans fats, such as some meat and dairy products.
"This measure would help protect consumers from one of the post poisonous adulterations of fatty acids in our food supply," says consumer advocate Mike Adams, author of "Grocery Warning." "Hydrogenated oils and trans fatty acids are so universally dangerous to human health that the World Health Organization recommended their outright ban three decades ago."
New York Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden says the ban would be a challenge for restaurants, but that trans fats can be easily replaced and substituted with healthier oils that taste better. "It is a dangerous and unnecessary ingredient," Frieden says. "No one will miss it when it's gone."
Chuck Hunt, executive vice president of the NYC chapter of the New York State Restaurant Association, says he is stunned that officials would try to ban a legal ingredient used in millions of kitchens in America. "Labeling is one thing, but when they totally ban a product, it goes beyond what we think is prudent and acceptable," he says.
Hunt says the proposal would force cooks to scrutinize every ingredient in the pantry and re-invent recipes. Restaurants would be subject to fines if inspectors found ingredients containing artificial trans fats, which has led some to call the proposal unnecessary meddling by the government.
However, Adams says government regulations protect Americans from toxic substances in the water, air and environment, so foods should enjoy similar protection from toxins. "This isn't a regulation that attempts to dictate the way you eat," Adams says. "It's simply one that seeks to remove a known toxic substance from the food supply."