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Philadelphia bans trans fats – more to follow

February 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.

 

USA update

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:

  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Florida
  • Massachusetts
  • Maryland
  • Mississippi
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Rhode Island
  • Texas
  • Virginia

“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.”

 

12 comments

  1. Its me again.. hmmm… based on the recent news report in ST, the HPB is quietly ramping up efforts to get trans fat either labelled or out of our major supermarkets.

    I was thinking about the HPB report about “average” Singaporeans and I think that its not a good statistics to us. If we look at vegetarians, saturated fats are probably minimal for them, but trans fat may be more than above average. But by lumping meat and non-meat eaters, the larger population of meat eaters will bring down the “average” trans fat intake.


  2. Your observation about “average” is true. People like me also bring down the national “average” 😉 ! But then, this is true of all countries.

    If you look at it from the other point of view, vegetarians who take margarine raise the national average, so the rest are not as badly off.

    Comparing average with average, however, tells us that the South Korean average is less than 1/10th of ours!


  3. Yeah, I agree, but we wouldn’t know until we compare the numbers of meat vs non-meat eaters. But based on the number of organic and vegetarian stalls in Singapore, we can say that it can be a good indication that the “average” probably reflects that of the meat eaters. Anyway, why do we care about the average so much, most of us are the average, we should worry about individuals, even if 2 persons out of the average are way above 2 g per day on trans fat, we should do something about it! Unfortunately, this may be something that our HPB running on statistics may not know.


  4. You think the people at HPB don’t know? They not stupid.

    Seems to me more a case of they think we stupid, make untrue statements such as “Singapore’s trans fat intake is lowest in the world” and believe they can get away with it.


  5. I can see how reactive our civil service must be. I was wondering if you should actually have some kind of a list/table/graph, which you update regularly so that casual readers could at a look see how many states we are behind in terms of compulsary labelling or banning trans fat. You could also conveniently include when we fall behind which state?

    It may have a greater psychological impact on them than just litanies of the omissions that only those who have been following the development would pay attention to.


  6. Hi saltwetfish,

    I have been thinking about your comment on the ST report:
    …the HPB is quietly ramping up efforts to get trans fat either labelled or out of our major supermarkets.

    Where in the report did it suggest that HPB is putting more effort into the activities you mentioned? From memory, it seems that HPB was also given little space in the report compared to NTUC. The latter was clearly credited for its decision with almost no reference to HPB.

    Please correct me if I am mistaken, but I am of the opninion that the matter has been,and probably still is, out of the hands of HPB for a very long time.


  7. Thanks YCK for the suggestion. I will do something for my website. To date we are behind:

    — Denmark, New York & Philadelphia which have banned trans fats

    — Canada, USA, South Korea which have legislated trans fat labelling

    — Taiwan which has announced it will legislate trans fat labelling.

    And you are right about not much mention of HPB involvement in NTUC Faiprice’s move to label trans fats. Right at the end of the newspaper report it simply said HPB is working closely with other supermarkets.

    But as I noted in my commentary about positive laabelling, such labelling are marketing gimmicks, no need for any government encouragement before companies start jumping on the bandwagon.

    But for political correctness, newspapers must give some credit to HPB lah!


  8. We are falling behind fast. Never supposed that our civil service is very proactive anyway. Good that you are keeping track 🙂 Hope my suggestion helps the less frequent readers.

    Glad you were not annoyed by my remark on the HPB. I have found it sometimes necessary to go through such reports with a cynic’s eye. HPB has been ineffectual since it started tacking the problem since 2004.


  9. If we add all the cities, states and countries that have initiated some sort of action against trans fats – eg proposed laws, set up committees to study the matter, etc – just that they have not formalised things, then we are even further behind.

    Eg Australian government announced in October 2006 that it has established a National Collaboration on Trans Fats aimed at reducing the presence in trans fat food sold in Australia.

    Plus, as mentioned in the post, lots of US cities and states have proposed laws to ban or label trans fats.

    Well, if Singapore does not mind lagging in press freedom, I guess our government does not mind lagging in trans fat legislation either.

    After all, this will “prove” that we are not so kiasu, no need to be #1 in everything.


  10. It is nice to know that there is government initiative to get us out of the rat race. But I am not sure about matters with dire impacts on our health. Rather more kiasu or kiasi than less 🙂


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