Should Massachusetts Restrict the Use of Trans Fats in Food Prep Served at Restaurants?
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
The Massachusetts House of Representatives has recently approved a bill that would be the United States’ first statewide trans fat bill. While the bill was introduced on December 19, 2006 by Representative Peter J. Koutoujian, co-chairmman of the legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Health, its first hearing was held on July 11, 2007 (Trans Fat Bans in Restaurants and Schools). The bill is currently in the hands of the Senate, who could not vote before their formal session closed in July. The bill has been made one of the top priorities, being placed on the Orders of the Day for the next session (House, No. 4346 Bill Protecting Public Health). The House of Representatives voted in favor of the bill 114-34 in early June of this year (Mass.gov).
Generally, the bill states that no foods which contain artificial trans fat shall be used in preparation of any menu item or served by common victualler. However, trans fat in foods that are served directly to patrons in a manufacturer’s original package is allowed. The bill requires restaurants in Massachusetts to switch to vegetable shortening, margarine, or any partially hydrogenated vegetable oil that contains less than 0.5 grams of trans fat for every serving by 2010 (Petition of Bill No. 2147). It’s important to note that the bill only applies to trans fat that comes from artificial sources, and not the small amounts that occur naturally in some foods (Mass. Voters Favor Ridding Restaurants of Artificial Trans Fat).
Presently, Massachusetts does not have any laws which restrict any food-related company from using oils that are high in fat when frying their foods. The bill takes after New York City’s first and newly passed law that bans the use of trans fats. Rep. Koutoujian said of the newly adopted ban, "New York City's decision to ban trans fats from restaurants shows how government can take positive action toward improving public health.” Rep. Koutoujian said, "we have an opportunity to vastly improve public health by directing restaurants to switch to healthier alternatives" (Douglas). As many as 15 other states have proposed bills to restrict the use of trans fats in both schools and the food industry. Interestingly, Democratic Senators and Representatives comprise the majority of bill proposers (Trans Fat Bans in Restaurants and Schools).
Artificial trans fat is more unhealthy than any other fat because it raises a person’s levels of “bad” LDL; cholesterol that lowers HDL (“good” cholesterol), in effect causing heart disease. There is now a Federal mandate that trans fat be listed on food labels, which has caused most manufacturers to switch oils (Mass. Voters Favor Ridding Restaurants of Artificial Trans Fat). Mainly, trans fats are used to add taste and texture to food, while extending shelf life (Tisei).
The chart above displays major food sources of trans fat for American adults. The average daily trans fat intake is 5.8 grams or 2.6 percent of calories (Revealing Trans Fats).
According to a Suffolk University poll, approximately 67 percent of Massachusetts voters are concerned about heart problems related to trans fats, and favor a bill to phase it out of the state’s restaurants. 24 percent of those surveyed opposed the ban of trans fats. However, 81 percent said that restaurants who use trans fats should disclose that fact on their menus. Rep. Koutoujian said of the poll, “This poll demonstrates that Massachusetts residents understand that by forgoing the use of artificial trans fats, we can live healthier lives without negatively affecting the taste of many foods” (Mass. Voters Favor Ridding Restaurants of Artificial Trans Fat).
There has been much debate about the health risks involved with trans fats, as well as the government’s role in regulating use. Some say that trans fats increase the risk of stroke, type 2 diabetes, and heart failure. Others believe the government has no right to tell people what they can and cannot eat, citing freedom of choice as a defense (Tisei).
Members of a leading industry group, the Massachusetts Restaurant Association (MRA), have voluntarily removed trans fats or provide nutritional information on their menus. They argue that a government mandate is less effective than a voluntary approach, and that it is unfair to only target restaurants. The MRA believes that if trans fats need to be removed from citizen’s diets, they should be banned altogether, not just in restaurants (Tisei).
Supporters of the bill say legislation is needed to protect the health of the public. It has been proven that hydrogenated fats are poisons. Trans fats are dangerous chemicals that damage arteries, causes heart disease, and can kill people. Therefore, according to rep. Steve D’Amico, it is a public health issue. The bill’s sponsors say that in Massachusetts, trans fat products are estimated to have annually contributed to up to 4,000 premature deaths (Jullian).
Opponents of the bill say that since the food serving industry has already started eliminating trans fats from their menus the bill should not be legislated at the state level. One opponent believes that there are many other priorities to focus on, as the market is evolving towards healthier choices. Peter Christie, president of the MRA, says the industry has already commenced a movement away from the use of trans fats. He said that he understands the argument that businesses don’t need government regulating its use, but he believes it would happen in time, anyway (Jullian).
The ban proposal is similar to the ban of cigarette smoking in a bar. The government is not attempting to restrict trans fat use everywhere, just in the food serving industries; just as cigarettes are only banned in restaurants, not from stores. This gives Americans the ability to purchase trans fat foods in stores if they wish, not entirely restricting consumption. I believe that trans fat use in restaurants, as well as in stores, is a public health issue. It is known that trans fats are unhealthy for the human body.
I understand the argument that the government is attempting to dictate what people can and cannot eat. Who is the government to decide what is best for society? According to the Suffolk poll stated above, the government is not the only people concerned. The majority of citizens are worried about the unhealthy nature of trans fats. Because of this concern, as well as the evidence indicating its abundance of use and unhealthy nature, I think the government is obligated to provide for the public health of society, and they are doing so by attempting to pass this bill.
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"House, No. 4346 Bill Protecting Public Health." The 185th General Court. Mass.gov.
Jullian, Maite. "House OKs trans fat ban." The Sun Chronicle Online. 11 Jun 2008. The Sun
"Mass. Voters Favor Ridding Restaurants of Artificial Trans Fat." Center for Science in the Public
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"Mass.gov." Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
"Petition of Bill No. 2147." 185th General Court. Mass.gov.
"Revealing Trans Fats." Federal Citizen Information Center. FDA.
Tisei, Richard. "Trans-fats ban: good policy or ‘Nanny State’ run amuck?." Wicked Local.
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