City Council's Public Health Committee declared war on trans fats yesterday, approving a bill that would ban the health threat from food venues ranging from restaurants to vending carts.
The bill, sponsored by City Councilman Juan Ramos, would initially ban the use of oils, shortenings and margarines used in cooking on Sept. 1 and any trans fats used in baked goods a year later. Council could vote on the bill Feb. 8.
Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, testified that trans fats or partially hydrogenated oils such as Crisco are "on a gram-for-gram basis the single most harmful type of fat, even worse than the saturated fat in meat and dairy products."
Jacobson's center led the charge for nutritional labeling on packaged foods and in the early 1990s urged the FDA to add trans-fat content to the list, which it did three years ago.
Izzat Melhem, an assistant city health commissioner, said that the Public Health Department would need to hire two sanitarians and one health educator to carry out the bill's mandate. In the early stages, he said, restaurants would not be fined for failing to abide by the ordinance.
The bill exempts any food served to a patron in a manufacturer's original sealed package. Tracking FDA definitions, which are also used in a new ban in New York City, the food can have a half gram or less of trans fat and still be considered trans-fat free.
Noting that some restaurant chains have already begun to remove trans fats from their menus, Ramos said that heart disease is one of the city's leading causes of death. If the city's restaurants replace the dangerous trans fats with more healthy alternatives, he predicted, a reduction in heart attacks will follow.
Ramos said he has written a letter to the school district asking it to remove trans fat from the school menus.
"I expect a positive response in the near future," he said.
Wayne T. Grasela, director of food services for the school district, said the district is evaluating the fat content of the foods it serves "and we are going to start moving away from them."
Already, the district is getting USDA cooking oils without trans fat.