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Will Hartford Be the Next City to Ban Artificial Trans Fats?

Jon Campbell

January 25, 2011

If Councilman Larry Deutsch has his way, the city of Hartford may be a healthier place to dine out in the future. But the cannoli might not taste so good.

A proposal floated by Deutsch would make Hartford the latest city to ban the use of artificial trans fats — think old-school Crisco and margarine — in restaurants and commercial bakeries. While the details of the law have yet to be worked out, Deutsch says the final language would likely resemble a measure passed in New York City in 2006. That ordinance required all restaurants and commercial food producers in the city to switch to products with little or no trans fats.

Deutsch said it’s an important role of government to help keep people healthy, and banning trans fats is one way to do that.

“This is a recognized public health measure; a way to take a preventive approach to decreasing chronic heart disease. It’s similar to banning smoking in public places,” says Deutsch.

Artifical trans fats are created when hydrogen is added to certain kinds of vegetable oil. Like other kinds of fats, trans fats raise levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream. Even worse, health advocates say, trans fats also lower the levels of HDL, or “good” cholesterol. The combination makes the products doubly harmful, and can increase the risk of heart disease.

Trans fats have a much longer shelf life than other kinds of fats, and that longevity has made them popular for use in frying applications, because the oils can be reused longer without replacement. Their staying power has also made them popular in packaged foods, where they’ve been subject to labeling requirements nationwide for the past few years.

Mayor Pedro Segarra says he generally supports the idea of the ban, but wanted to make sure there wouldn’t be adverse economic effects. Segarra also says the issue of enforcement would need to be considered.

“How are we going to monitor this?” Segarra says. “Do we devote city resources?”

Segarra says there needed to be thorough outreach to the community to gather feedback and inform the public about the initiative.

“We need to figure out a way that we can continue and increase the process of education to let people know why this is being done … you’re going to have a lot of folks that are going to be very critical, because they’re going to think that government is trying to tell them what to eat,” says Segarra.

The mayor’s prediction may be dead-on. When the item appeared on a city council agenda last week, one member of the audience, local blogger Kevin Brookman, said it’s not the government’s place to legislate residents’ diets.

“What is this council doing?” Brookman asked. “I don’t think we need the council legislating every aspect of our lives.”

There was a lot of handwringing in New York when a ban was proposed in that city, and significant resistance from fast food franchises and the like. Now, several years on, McDonald’s has switched to trans-fat-free oils nationwide, and many other chains have followed suit.

Noel Jones, executive chef at Hartford’s Restaurant on20, says he doesn’t use any trans fats in his recipes, so the ban wouldn’t have much of an impact on his cooking.

Nicole Griffin, executive director of the Connecticut Restaurant Association, says her group would oppose a ban. Describing Hartford’s move as “behind the times,” Griffin says the industry has already largely abandoned trans fats, and cooks like Jones are now the norm.

“I don’t think it’s something that’s necessary. We don’t need laws or regulations to do something that’s already being done in the industry,” says Griffin.

Griffin also says the ban would be unduly onerous for restaurants that still use trans fats, because businesses with more than one location would be required to comply with a variety of local laws.

Carmelo Sardelli, the owner of Modern Pastry Shop on Franklin Avenue in Hartford, says he uses vegetable shortenings that may contain trans fats, but he isn’t worried about having to make a change.

“We will definitely be able to adjust,” Sardelli says, noting that there was a time he used lard in his recipes, before that also went out of fashion. “We’ll have a substitute. Instead of vegetable shortening, there’ll be some alternative … it won’t affect the taste.

Gino Mozzicato, owner of the South End bakery Mozzicato de Pasquale, says he can be counted among the opponents to a ban. Mozzicato says some of the shortening used in his baked goods simply can’t be reproduced without trans fats. He’s already tried.

“We tried it about four or five years ago, [after New York’s ban] to see if it would work, but the quality was not the same,” says Mozzicato.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Advocate.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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