By Jane Black
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 26, 2008
California became the first state in the country to ban artery-clogging trans fats yesterday when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law a measure to phase them out in restaurants beginning in 2010 and from baked goods by 2011.
"California is a leader in promoting health and nutrition, and I am pleased to continue that tradition by being the first state in the nation to phase out trans fats," Schwarzenegger (R) said.
Trans fatty acids, or trans fats, are commonly found in partially hydrogenated oils, which became popular at fast-food restaurants and bakeries because they have a longer shelf life than other oils.
But a series of studies over the past decade has shown that trans fats can lower "good cholesterol" (high-density lipoproteins) and raise "bad cholesterol" (low-density lipoproteins), which can contribute to heart disease and other ailments.
Researchers at the Harvard University School of Public Health estimate that artificial trans fats cause 50,000 premature heart-attack deaths every year.
Violators of the California law will incur fines of $25 to $1,000. Food sold in manufacturer-sealed packaging will be exempt.
"Trans fat is generally recognized as the single most harmful fat in the food supply on a gram-per-gram basis," said Michael Jacobson, executive director of Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington-based health advocacy group that has called for trans fat labeling since the 1990s. "This is a historic day."
California, the country's most populous state, has long been a trendsetter for health and nutrition issues, and similar bills are pending in more than a dozen other states. Trans fat bans already are on the books in a number of cities and counties, including Montgomery County, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore and New York City.
Montgomery County's ban on trans fats in oils, shortening and margarines used for frying took effect on Jan. 1, 2008. On Jan. 1, 2009, it expands to include all other foods, as well as oils and shortenings used for deep frying.
Public health advocates hope that the California ban will encourage national and regional chain restaurants to alter their recipes elsewhere. Though the Cheesecake Factory, Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonald's, Taco Bell and Wendy's have begun to move away from trans fats, other chains, including Burger King, continue to use partially hydrogenated oil in their restaurants.
The California Restaurant Association fought hard against the bill, arguing that the federal government, not individual states, should develop regulations on trans fat use.
But, association spokesman Daniel Conway said yesterday, "We're confident that our members can meet the mandate because many of them are already voluntarily phasing out the use of trans fats."
Opponents also argued that it was not clear if substitutes for trans fats would be any better for public health, but CSPI's Jacobson said, "All the evidence shows is that trans fats are the most harmful. You can substitute anything in their place, and it will be an improvement."