Philadelphia bans trans fats – more to followFebruary 10, 2007
I was about to give an update about the trans fat situation in the US when the news broke that Philadelphia has become the second major US city – after New York – to ban trans fats.
The trans fat ban in Philadelphia will take effect on 1 September 2007. Restaurants will no longer be allowed to fry foods with hydrogenated oils, nor to serve margarine spreads.
You may have read the story on page 45 of our MSM, The Straits Times. I am not complaining, just pointing out that the story appeared on page 45 in the World section. This is not front page news material and anyway the story received considerable coverage.
What’s significant is that in Philadelphia – as well as in New York in December 2006 – legislators voted unanimously to impose a ban on trans fats. Everyone agreed that a ban was in order.
Here in Singapore, our health authorities seem to think in the opposite way and everyone seems to agree that there is no need to take strong measures to curb the consumption of trans fat.
It is because, as the health authorities claim and the newspapers duly reported, that “Singaporeans eat the least amount of this artery-clogging substance in the world”?
This statement is simply not true. The Koreans eat less than 1/10th as much trans fats as Singaporeans. Yet they thought it necessary to introduce trans fat labelling.
Taiwan, too, has announced it would introduce trans fat labelling. Although I don’t have trans fat consumption figures for Taiwan, I am pretty sure it is lower than in Singapore.
And I can bet you that the trans fat consumption levels for Hong Kong, mainland China and our Southeast Asian neighbours are lower than ours too. I don’t have the figures to prove this. Also in India, and most, if not all, the African countries.
Let’s just say it is my guess. If anyone has the official figures, do let me know.
More and more, we are moving in the direction of an American-style diet, with lots of fast foods as well as commercially mass produced bread, cakes, pastries and biscuits… all containing trans fats. Yet our health authorities claim that tran fats is “a small problem” here. They are simply refusing to acknowledge the problem, not even the potential problem.
Anyway, here is the USA update that I promised earlier on.
Several other US cities are currently considering a ban on trans fats, including Boston, Buffalo, Chicago, Cleveland and Louisville. More than that, however, at least 12 US states have called for bans on trans fat:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New York
- Rhode Island
“By forcing some of the world’s largest food chains and restaurants to use healthier alternatives in their food preparation, New York City has paved the way for what I hope will be a national movement to improve health quality of the food we eat in restaurants,” said Connecticut Senate Minority Leader Pro Tempore John McKinney (R) in December when he announced his co-sponsorship of a similar bill for the Connecticut General Assembly.
Three states – California, New Hampshire and New York – have suggested that the ban apply to both school cafeterias and restaurants.
Florida, Mississippi, Texas and Virginia will consider proposals to prohibit trans fats in schools.
Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey and Rhode Island are focused on eliminating trans fats in restaurants.
Reorts coming from the US add that trans fat is an issue that has support from both the Republican and Democrats. Politics don’t come into play here. In Massachusetts, a Democrat proposed a trans fat ban, while in California, a Republican lawmaker took the lead. The New York City ban initiated by Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Also, the New York experience has been that asking restaurants to voluntarily eliminate trans fat did not work.
Erica Lessem, spokeswoman for New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said that after efforts were made in 2005 to encourage restaurants to drop trans fats, “use (of trans fats) remained common and has not declined substantially, despite the Trans Fat Education Campaign.”
This was no doubt due to the fact that, unlike packaged food, restaurant food were not affected by US trans fat labelling laws that came into effect on 1 Janaury 2006.
Said Michael F. Jacobson, the executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI): “When trans fats labeling went into effect in the supermarket, large food manufacturers competed against each other to see who could get rid of artificial trans fat the fastest. But restaurants didn’t have labeling as an incentive to change so they’ve needed other incentives: a lawsuit here, a municipal phase-out proposal there.”
Meanwhile, here’s what my Singaporen friend living in Boulder, Colarado, has to say about us in Singapore debating the trans fat issue: “Can’t imagine people still dialoguing about it. Here, it is a straight no no.”