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Banning trans fats

I haven’t really followed the anti-trans fat bill very closely, but if it’s worth a front page headline, it’s worth a mention here.

Lawmakers in coming weeks will consider bills by Houston state Rep. Carol Alvarado and state Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, that would outlaw restaurant use of certain oils, shortenings and margarines by September 2011.

The oils, which have been treated with hydrogen at high heat to prolong shelf life, were touted as healthful alternatives to butter until doctors found they contributed to cardiovascular and other diseases.

“Texans want to make healthy choices,” Alvarado said Friday. “This has nothing to do with taste. Our restaurants cook with trans fat-free oils, and it doesn’t compromise the flavor at all.”

Glen Garey, general counsel for the 5,000-member Texas Restaurant Association, said his organization “stands arm in arm” with Alvarado on the issue, especially since the bill was altered in committee to allow restaurants more time to comply.

If the bill becomes law, Texas would join California and New York City in banning the restaurant use of oils containing artificial trans fats.

Alvarado’s bill calls for eliminating use of such oils at restaurant chains with 15 or more outlets in Texas by September 2010. The ban would apply to all restaurants by September 2011. Penalties for violations have yet to be determined.

Rep. Alvarado’s bill is HB1523. I’m moderately surprised that there’s no real opposition to this; usually this sort of thing kicks up a big fuss. I guess this is sufficiently mainstream now that a measure like this is seen as inevitable.

One objection I have seen to this comes from EdT on Twitter, in reply to an agreeing Alison Cook, who notes that there’s “MUCH more trans fats in the stuff on the grocery store shelves.” I’d say that’s true, but it’s also a federal matter. Restaurants are something the Lege can regulate, and so here we are.

HB1523 hasn’t had its committee hearing yet, and with a bit more than 8 weeks left in the session it’s hard to say what its prospects are, even with the restauranteurs in its corner. On a related note, Rep. Alvarado has also filed HB1522, which would require chain restaurants to disclose their nutrition information. Given that the best source for this information nowadays is Ken Hoffman’s Drive Thru Gourmet column, I’d say that bill might have the bigger effect.

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