Thursday, July 31, 2008

Restraining trans fats in Massachusetts restaurants

The Massachusetts Senate shortly may take up a bill passed by the House (HB 4346), which would ban artificial trans fats in restaurants. The small amount of naturally occurring trans fats in food would not be affected. Like saturated fats, or perhaps worse, trans fats appear to affect blood cholesterol in a way that increases the risk of heart disease. Because heart disease is a leading killer, a small improvement in risk can save many lives.

Senate President Therese Murray will try to move this bill shortly, perhaps today, according to David Seltz, a senior policy advisor. (A wonderful thing about State legislatures is that citizens can easily place a call directly to relevant staff on issues like this. Try it yourself on an issue you care about!)

The bill is supported by the American Diabetes Association, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the American College of Cardiology, the American Academy of Pediatrics, MassPIRG, and the Massachusetts Hospital Association. In the House, HB 4346 was supported by long-time public health and nutrition champion Peter Koutoujian.

Senate minority leader Richard Tisei may oppose the bill. An earlier opinion piece by him worried about "nanny state" implications. In the case of trans fats, these concerns are misplaced. Artificial trans fats are a recent invention with little merit in terms of the taste and food quality goals that consumers seek to achieve by expressing their freedom of choice. Trans fats are disappearing from manufactured foods already, because new labeling rules reveal which food products contain them, and food companies quickly realized that no consumers want trans fats. A similar approach doesn't work in restaurants, because consumers do not have such easy access to nutrition information, so they can't protect their own interests in the restaurant marketplace without government action.

In many cases, good government policy should defer to consumers, but for trans fats the simple and economically reasonable approach is to do away with them. I hope Senator Tisei keeps raising these considerations on other food policy issues, but relaxes his opposition in the case of trans fats.

1 comment:

Nat said...
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