In January, the commission gave preliminary approval to a ban on trans fats, but some of the real decisions are still coming up. A public comment period is almost over, so write quickly if you'd like to express your views on trans fats. There will be a public hearing on Thursday, March 13, 2008, from 3 to 4pm, in the Hayes Conference Room, 1010 Massachusetts Avenue. For more information, see the brochure from the Boston Public Health Commission (.pdf).
The Boston Globe in January summarized the scientific case for the commission's proposal:
Scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health conducted much of the landmark research into trans fat, establishing the link between the substance and cardiovascular disease in people. Primate studies have also shown that consuming trans fat can elevate the risk of a condition that is a precursor to diabetes and also pack fat around the belly, where it is believed to be more dangerous than elsewhere. Studies estimate that having as few as 40 calories of trans fat a day can boost the risk of a heart attack by 23 percent. A fast-food meal of chicken nuggets and French fries, if prepared with artificial trans fat, can easily contain more than 100 calories of the substance.A ban on a particular ingredient is seldom an economist's preferred policy lever, and many progressive food policy advocates prefer to focus on real foods and foodways rather than single ingredients. Still, in the case of trans fat, a ban might be simpler and more efficient than other policy options. In contrast with salt or caloric sweeteners, there is no major economic constituency lined up in favor of trans fats, and no large economic cost to a ban.
The Boston action is just part of what is going on nationally to address trans fats. For example, the Center for Science in the Public Interest has recently been taking on Burger King, the only one of the major three burger chains without plans to move away from hydrogenated vegetable oil.