Thursday, November 16, 2006

Trans Fat Alteration

In today's NY Times reports on the planned revision of the Department of Health's plan to ban trans fat (The NY Sun highlights this revision as well in today's paper). As the story's headline says, "Acting on Industry Complaints, City Will Revise a Plan to Limit Trans Fat." What this means is that a new version of the plan will be submitted to the Board of Health on December 5th, necessitating a new public hearing and an inevitable delay in the Board's disposition of the matter.

Dr. Frieden did not go into the nature of his proposed revisions but did tell the Times that "the changes had been prompted by criticism from people in the restaurant industry who said the proposal would not give them enough time to develop new recipes..." " This is precisely the issue that the Alliance has been trumpeting for the past few weeks.

In the Times piece, the commissioner took pains to disagree with the Heart Association's assessment that the switch could lead restaurants to go back to using saturated fats. Two comments that Frieden made at yesterday's Crain's breakfast, however, deserve to be challenged: That the supply issue was not an issue ("The supply issue is a nonissue"); and that the use of different oils would not impact taste (Which he contradicts in today's story when he says that he has been persuaded that changing recipes "might take more time than the health department had assumed"). How does the commissioner come to know this with such certainty?

All of which underscores the danger involved when health officials try to regulate industries that they are not really expert on, a point that the NY Post's Steve Cuozzo makes rather forcefully in a column this morning. As the columnist points out, the heart association's caveat against the ban should tell the city: "Butt out of a business that you know nothing about and pay attention to delivering basic city services..." Cuozzo also takes issue with what he feels is the paternalistic nature of the attack on predominately fast food joints in low income areas.

Other coverage of the city's about face can be found in the NY Post's story of a longer fat "Trans"ition period for the imposition of a trans fat ban. As Frieden told the Post, "The transition difficulty-getting from here to there-that, I think is real..." The NY Daily News also weighs in on the potential that the ban has for litigation. The paper also elicits a comment from Speaker Quinn that any council legislative effort would be in "consultation" with the Board of Health.

One last point, that the Sun highlights, is the fact that the DOH is contemplating giving technical assistance to local eateries so that they can be made aware of the ban and learn how to make as smooth a transition as possible. This, we believe, is in recognition that the out reach effort was not as effective as it could have been-another Alliance position. Oh, yes. The Sun also reports that Peter Vallone is going ahead with his legislation in spite of the commisioner's misgivings.