Trans fats ban in Minneapolis restaurants in limbo

Other cities have banned the ingredient that has been linked to heart disease and cancer.

Though âÄútrans fatâÄù has become an important public health concern in America, it will remain legal in Minneapolis restaurants âÄî at least for now. In January, Minneapolis was preparing ordinances to ban trans fats in restaurants, but Ward 2 City Councilmember Cam Gordon said the issue is now in limbo. Gordon said there is an argument that, given the financial climate, now is not the time to burden small businesses with anything. A decision will not likely come for at least a couple months, Gordon said. Ward 13 Councilmember Betsy Hodges said the city is in the process of making budget cuts, and banning trans fat would require money for enforcement in the regulatory services department. âÄúItâÄôs not about adding things to our city, itâÄôs about taking them away,âÄù Hodges said of budget cuts. In early 2006, the Food and Drug Administration began requiring that all food containing more than 0.5 grams per serving of trans fatty acids (TFA) indicates so on the label. In December 2006, New York City became the first city in the country to ban TFAs in restaurants. Since then, California has taken similar steps along with dozens of cities in the United States, but no such legislation has been passed in the Twin Cities. Doug Mashek and So Young Bu from the University of MinnesotaâÄôs Food Science and Nutrition department published an article about trans fats in October 2008 in Minnesota Medicine. In the article they list margarines, frying oils and snacks such as biscuits, cakes and popcorn as the major contributors to TFA intake. The article also said the average daily intake of TFAs is about 5.8 grams for people in the United States who are 20 and older. This number is expected to decrease with the increasing number of bans on TFA in restaurants across the country. The article suggests that the reason why TFAs are being banned is because they have been linked to coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. Mashek said the bans are related to the processed foods that contain hydrogenated oils used for cooking and contain high levels of TFAs. âÄúYou can make most of those ingredients without [TFAs],âÄù Mashek said. âÄúYou can make a doughnut that tastes just as good without trans fat as with trans fat, so if you know trans fat is bad, itâÄôs kind of a no-brainer to remove it.âÄù Mashek said the transition in New York City has been smooth since the ban, and they were able to replace the hydrogenated oils with oils that do not have TFAs and it did not change the product. Mashek said he would not be surprised if TFAs were banned at the federal level at some point. He said the New York City ban initiated change throughout the whole industry because all of the restaurant chains with locations there had to change what they were doing. All ApplebeeâÄôs locations, including the one in Stadium Village, stopped using TFAs in their cooking oil after the ban in New York City. Jill Preston, director of communications for Noodles and Company, said they have been âÄúahead of the curveâÄù on the issue. Preston said they had already stopped using artificial trans fats before the New York City ban. Abby Keul, a manager at Loring Pasta Bar, said they use only olive oil and that a ban on trans fats âÄúwouldnâÄôt hurt.âÄù Mashek said there is still a lot of research being done with other kinds of trans fats that are found in some meats and dairy products. He said some of these kinds of trans fats might actually be beneficial and researchers are still trying to find out which ones are good and bad. Steve Basile, a south Minneapolis resident, is in favor of a ban, but is more concerned with restaurants labeling their food. He does not buy products with TFAs in grocery stores because they are labeled, but he said there is a âÄúdouble standardâÄù with restaurants. âÄúIf we had a labeling requirement here in Minneapolis I would look to see if theyâÄôre using trans fats âĦ and then use a different restaurant,âÄù Basile said. He said TFAs are different than other unhealthy ingredients because they are âÄúoutright dangerous.âÄù He compared banning TFAs in restaurants with the banning of lead in gasoline and DDT in pesticides. âÄúIn hindsight we look at that and go âÄòwow, those were awful things, we were ruining the environment and ourselves for using them,âÄôâÄù Basile said. âÄúI think one day weâÄôll regard trans-fats as a similar toxin.âÄù Basile said there are two kinds of restaurants: those that treat it as an industry and those that cook as if they were cooking for themselves. âÄúInformed local restaurants have already removed those products from their own purchasing,âÄù he said. âÄúIf the restaurant ownerâÄôs mindset is âÄòIâÄôm going to maximize my margin,âÄô theyâÄôre probably not paying attention to whatâÄôs healthy and whatâÄôs not.âÄù University Dining Services could not be reached for comment.