This House would ban the use of trans fats in food stuffs

Trans fat is the common name for unsaturated fat with trans-isomer (E-isomer) fatty acid(s). It can be found in Oreos, cup-cakes, french fries, deep-fried dishes, croissants, and other foods. It is so unhealthy for individuals that many legislators have proposed and executed bans on the use of trans fats in restaurants, and in some cases in commercially available grocery goods and foodstuffs as well.

New York City was the first US city to have successfully banned trans fats in December of 2006. Philadelphia followed in October of 2007. San Francisco, Seattle, and Chicago have all passed similar bans or limitations since. Many other legislatures in the US are pursuing bans. Denmark was the first country to effectively ban trans fats in 2003, with Switzerland following in 2009. The debate continues in many other countries and localities.

While many believe that the world might be healthier without the trans-isomer fats, others contend that trans fats have a particularly delicious taste, and serve the functional purpose of extending the shelf-life of foods. Opponents of a ban also criticize efforts by the government to protect consumers by limiting their choices, calling this "infantilization" and "nannying." But supporters respond that trans fats are so widespread in restaurants and products (often without labelling) that consumers really don't have an informed "choice" in consuming the fat. And while many argue that banning trans fats is like trying to ban tobacco or alcohol, supporters respond that trans fats are only an ingredient (not a whole product category) for which there are replacement ingredients that can maintain the taste and quality of the final food products.

Title 
Trans fats are uniquely unhealthy
Point 

One of the purposes of government is identify possible threats to health and protect the people from these threats. The fact that some government regulations seem 'silly' or misplaced, or cannot easily be understood by lay-people is not a compelling argument for having no regulations at all, or for not having regulations in the case of trans fat. The commentators who denounce the 'nanny state' do not indicate what, if any, regulations or styles of regulation they approve of. Do they think there should be no inspections of restaurants by health inspectors? No regulation at all of food or drug safety by the Food and Drug Administration? Some commentators think that people should be encouraged to study the dangers of trans fats and make their own judgements about what to eat. But people have limited time to do research on such matters. It makes sense to delegate the research to a central authority, so that instead of 300 million people trying to learn about trans fats and every other lurking menace, a handful of experts can make recommendations based on the likely responses and desires of the average, informed citizen.

Non-specialists’ capacity to absorb information on complex chemical and biological subjects is quite limited. The majority of us are reliant on the research of others for most of what we know.(5) The opinion of the experts on the dangers of trans fats is conclusive:  trans fats are unsafe.

The American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers all uses of trans fats to be 'generally regarded as safe.' This allows the use of trans fats in whatever way food producers desire. ’Safe’ for the FDA means 'a reasonable certainty in the minds of competent scientists that the substance is not harmful under its intended conditions of use', which no longer applies to trans fats. This 'generally regarded as safe' status should be revoked which in turn would greatly restrict its use in food.                                                 

The other option would be to allow local jurisdictions to regulate trans fats, but this would be more costly and lead to a patchwork of regulations.(1) The most effective method of controlling the use of trans-fats is through centralised, nationally applicable policy making. The poor and young are particularly vulnerable to the negative health effects of trans fats; at the very least, the threat posed to these groups justifies the use of informed regulation. Professor Alan Maryon-Davis, president of the UK Faculty of Public Health said in 2010: "There are great differences in the amount of trans-fats consumed by different people and we are particularly concerned about young people and those with little disposable income who eat a lot of this type of food. This is a major health inequalities issue.”(6)

The government has a legitimate interest in protecting its citizens from harms that they are not best placed to understand or avoid themselves, and so a ban on trans fats would not only save lives but would also be legitimate under the government's role to protect when citizens cannot reasonably protect themselves.

Counterpoint 

The American FDA considers the use of trans fats to be 'generally safe'.(1) The British Food Standards Agency says the UK's low average consumption of trans fats makes a complete ban unnecessary.(6) These organisations are already supposed to regulate foodstuffs and monitor trans fats, if they agreed that they needed to act surely they would.

For individuals considered especially vulnerable to the effects of trans-fat consumption, such as the old or the poor, the government should consider education, not a ban. Moreover, the real issue here isn't about health, but about the right of a citizen of a free country to choose to eat whatever foods he wishes. The role of government is not to restrict the freedoms of its citizens but to protect individuals and to defend their right to act freely. Informed, adult individuals have every right to eat whatever fattening, caloric or artery-clogging meals they please. Government health boards have no right to restrict the foods law-abiding citizens choose to put into their own bodies.(10)

Title 
Healthier equivalents of trans fats exist
Point 

It is easy and inexpensive to replace trans fats with other, less harmful products without significantly altering the taste of the food. Kraft eliminated trans fats from its Oreo cookies, with little public perception of any change in taste.(1) Similarly, the Wendy's restaurant chain tested a new frying oil in 370 franchises, with customers not noticing a difference in taste. Denmark imposed a national ban on trans fats with which even McDonald's has complied.(1) Replacements for trans fats will get cheaper and cheaper with time, as they are used more frequently and as the companies that produce and distribute them increase their sales volumes and are able to sell them for lower prices. 

Since trans fats are not irreplaceable, objections for the sake of consumer freedom are also unconvincing. As with lead added to paint, trans fats are unnecessary additions to products that can cause significant harm. Most people remain ignorant of the presence of trans-fats in their food, and of their effects. In this area the ban on trans fats differs from restrictions placed on the sale of alcohol and tobacco and so the two kinds of bans are not comparable. Not only are trans fats easy to substitute in foodstuffs, without impairing quality or taste, the presence of trans-fats is hard to detect. It is all-but impossible for informed and conscientious consumers to avoid buying and eating trans-fats.

While banning cigarettes and alcohol mean banning an entire product category, banning the ingredient of trans fats means no such thing. Rather, it simply means that readily available replacement ingredients must be used in the preparation of the same foods. And, since these fatty replacements are widespread and cheaply available, food makers and consumers should have little difficulty making the adjustment to making and consuming the same, albeit slightly modified, foods. 

Counterpoint 

A ban on trans fats will cause specific harms which cannot be fixed by switching to other fats or food preparation methods. Particularly hard hit would be small businesses, who would struggle to make the transition because they no not have the budgets to research alternative ways to make their products taste the same and so are likely to end up at a disadvantage compared to their bigger rivals. Moreover all businesses would suffer from reduced shelf life for their products.(7)

Such a ban does not make economic sense, and despite propositions claims trans fats cannot always be easily replaced. We use trans fats because they work well. For example they are needed in hydrogenation in order to convert liquid vegetable oils in to being solid, needed for example to make margarine, the amount of trans fats used for this can be reduced but not eliminated. Moreover, Michael Mason of The New York Times argues: "for preparing certain kinds of foods, there are few alternatives besides the saturated fats that have long been high on the list of artery-clogging foods.”(18)

Title 
The state should ban trans fats to protect the public
Point 

One of the purposes of government is identify possible threats to health and protect the people from these threats. The fact that some government regulations seem 'silly' or misplaced, or cannot easily be understood by lay-people is not a compelling argument for having no regulations at all, or for not having regulations in the case of trans fat. The commentators who denounce the 'nanny state' do not indicate what, if any, regulations or styles of regulation they approve of. Do they think there should be no inspections of restaurants by health inspectors? No regulation at all of food or drug safety by the Food and Drug Administration? Some commentators think that people should be encouraged to study the dangers of trans fats and make their own judgements about what to eat. But people have limited time to do research on such matters. It makes sense to delegate the research to a central authority, so that instead of 300 million people trying to learn about trans fats and every other lurking menace, a handful of experts can make recommendations based on the likely responses and desires of the average, informed citizen.

Non-specialists’ capacity to absorb information on complex chemical and biological subjects is quite limited. The majority of us are reliant on the research of others for most of what we know.(5) The opinion of the experts on the dangers of trans fats is conclusive:  trans fats are unsafe.

The American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers all uses of trans fats to be 'generally regarded as safe.' This allows the use of trans fats in whatever way food producers desire. ’Safe’ for the FDA means 'a reasonable certainty in the minds of competent scientists that the substance is not harmful under its intended conditions of use', which no longer applies to trans fats. This 'generally regarded as safe' status should be revoked which in turn would greatly restrict its use in food.                                                 

The other option would be to allow local jurisdictions to regulate trans fats, but this would be more costly and lead to a patchwork of regulations.(1) The most effective method of controlling the use of trans-fats is through centralised, nationally applicable policy making. The poor and young are particularly vulnerable to the negative health effects of trans fats; at the very least, the threat posed to these groups justifies the use of informed regulation. Professor Alan Maryon-Davis, president of the UK Faculty of Public Health said in 2010: "There are great differences in the amount of trans-fats consumed by different people and we are particularly concerned about young people and those with little disposable income who eat a lot of this type of food. This is a major health inequalities issue.”(6)

The government has a legitimate interest in protecting its citizens from harms that they are not best placed to understand or avoid themselves, and so a ban on trans fats would not only save lives but would also be legitimate under the government's role to protect when citizens cannot reasonably protect themselves.

Counterpoint 

The American FDA considers the use of trans fats to be 'generally safe'.(1) The British Food Standards Agency says the UK's low average consumption of trans fats makes a complete ban unnecessary.(6) These organisations are already supposed to regulate foodstuffs and monitor trans fats, if they agreed that they needed to act surely they would.

For individuals considered especially vulnerable to the effects of trans-fat consumption, such as the old or the poor, the government should consider education, not a ban. Moreover, the real issue here isn't about health, but about the right of a citizen of a free country to choose to eat whatever foods he wishes. The role of government is not to restrict the freedoms of its citizens but to protect individuals and to defend their right to act freely. Informed, adult individuals have every right to eat whatever fattening, caloric or artery-clogging meals they please. Government health boards have no right to restrict the foods law-abiding citizens choose to put into their own bodies.(10)

Title 
Trans fats are not uniquely unhealthy
Point 

The issue with trans-fat is that there is no better substitute. The fact is that the substitutes are also as bad, if not worse, than trans-fat itself. By banning trans-fat, restaurants will have to adopt these substitute substances, thus undermining the work of the government. This process is a waste of our resources as the government will have to spend huge amount of money to bring about a  ban on trans-fat without getting any positive outcome.

The trans-fat ban would only have clear benefits if it were to cause a general reduction in the overconsumption of high-fat foods, but a restaurant ban on one ingredient will not achieve this. This will mean that money will be wasted as increased costs will be passed on to the consumer while there is no benefit.(8) Trans fats are not uniquely and excessively unhealthy. Sugar is unhealthy. Salt is unhealthy. Runny eggs, rare meat, processed flour, nearly anything consumed too frequently or excessively is potentially dangerous. We would not ban these foods because they are unhealthy so the same should apply to trans fats.

The current obesity crisis within the US is not the result of regulatory failure and will not be solved by a ban on trans fats. Better choices, better parenting, exercise and personal restraint are the keys. None of these behavioural traits can be mandated by government.(9) Even if trans fats were eliminated from food products, overall a ban would do nothing to help individuals develop healthy lifestyles. While the ban would curtail consumption of onion rings (if they were cooked in trans fats), for example, it would remain perfectly legal to gorge oneself on Häagen-Dazs or chocolate, both unhealthy foods that contain no trans-fat.(10)

The main alternatives to trans-fat is not even that much healthier. In most cases, food makers will move to saturated fat, which carries all of the same health risks, for example it has been linked to diabetes and cancer.(9) The ban is therefore unlikely to have a perceptible effect on public health.

Trans-fats actually serve two useful purposes. Firstly, trans fats serve an important function of extending the shelf life of products.(1) This  is necessary for both producers and consumers as it makes producing these foods cheaper and reduces waste. It also means that consumers are less likely to consume spoiled food and become sick as a result. Secondly, trans fats are tasty and offer enjoyment to consumers. Trans fats keep foods from turning rancid on store shelves; give croissants their flakiness, keep muffins moist and satisfy the sweet tooth. The enjoyment of such tasty foods has a qualitative value to one's emotions and happiness.(3) Therefore trans fats are not uniquely unhealthy and a ban would not improve general public health -it would simply remove a useful and tasty substance from the market. Thus a ban is unjustified.

Counterpoint 

Health experts agree that banning trans fats would save thousands of lives specifically because the substance is dangerous even when consumed in very low quantities. They are simply a dangerous additive, which adds no extra value to food. 'Taste' considerations are simply a red herring, as switching to other fats would produce no meaningful change in taste, as has been demonstrated by several large food corporations who have made the shift without disappointing their customer base. The fact that other foodstuffs may be dangerous is an argument for better education or regulation regarding them, or -if merited -their own bans, but is not a case against banning trans fats. Trans-fats are significantly different to all the other unhealthy foods listed by side opposition, as trans fats are easily replaceable by less unhealthy substitutes, which things like sugar are not.

Title 
The government should provide information to consumers, not restrict choice
Point 

Milton Friedman argued in the 1980s: "If we continue on this path, there is no doubt where it will end. If the government has the responsibility of protecting us from dangerous substances, the logic surely calls for prohibiting alcohol and tobacco. . . . Insofar as the government has information not generally available about the merits or demerits of the items we ingest or the activities we engage in, let it give us the information. But let it leave us free to choose what chances we want to take with our own lives."(11)

George Mason University economist Don Boudreaux asks what a trans-fat ban is a model for: "Petty tyranny? Or perhaps for similarly inspired bans on other voluntary activities with health risks? Clerking in convenience stores? Walking in the rain?"(12) Morally the government should be consistent when it bans things, the sale of an undeniably deadly products such as tobacco  is sometimes allowed so far less dangerous substances should be allowed.(13)

Education should be considered an alternative to banning trans fats or other unhealthy food. There should be aggressive education campaigns to educate consumers as has been done with tobacco.. At the moment consumers are ignorant, they need to know what they are, the dangers and the consequences. Information on trans fats should also be part of a wider program of nutrition awareness which will put it in context. . Many people have rejected tobacco as a result of raised awareness; the same will occur with trans fats. The food industry would respond to consumer demand and reduce the use of trans fats and other ingredients considered ‘bad’.(13) Information on trans-fats is not hard to come by: the Centre for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), for example, is happy to inform about the dangers of dietary trans-fat, and has no trouble getting its declarations of doom on television and into newspapers.(11) This consumer pressure is already occurring. In the United States, for example, many fast-food chains and food manufacturers have already eliminated trans fats from their products or have pledged to phase them out. To pick one case, Wal-Mart is going to reduce its sugar, sodium content and remove all trans fats from its food.(14)

Left to its own devices, the market will solve this 'problem' in all areas which consumers consider it to be a problem, all without needing an unwieldy government ban. Therefore the government should educate its citizens regarding the health concerns surrounding trans fats, but leave it up to the citizens to choose what they eat.

Counterpoint 

Calling for an "education campaign" to inform consumers of what they are eating may sound sufficient, but this is very often just not enough. No matter what the government does, people will simply miss the "instructional" information provided by the government and will continue to consume trans fats without full information regarding its negative effects. In such circumstances, it is the government's job to step in a take action through a ban or other measures.

Moreover, when  a harmful trend such as the use of trans-fats becomes endemic and entrenched, it becomes increasingly difficult for citizens to always be aware of the fact that a food has trans fats in them and make the "choice" to eat or not to eat them.(15)

Producers include trans fats into foods without adjusting labelling, further affecting consumers’ ability to purchase foods that do not include trans-fats. The trans fats hidden in many processed foods are worse for a person's health than saturated fats. In 2005, CHOICE, an Australian watchdog tested more than 50 processed foods and found many contained trans fats at unacceptably high levels. After re-tests it was still clear that, while the fast-food chains had reduced their levels of trans fats, and some of the foods tested previously had eliminated trans fats altogether, others now contained even more than before. Foods such as pies, cakes and doughnuts may contain trans fats without the consumer even knowing about it.(16)

Title 
Banning trans fats in uneconomical
Point 

A trans-fat ban would hurt small restaurants the most. Carlie Irwin argues: “Since most of the big chains have already started the process of eliminating trans-fat from their food, the ban would be no big deal to them. But small, independent restaurants are another story. The potential ban has small restaurant owners sweating and nervously eyeing their deep fryers. As the St. Louis Business Journal points out, many small restaurant owners don’t have the ability to effectively and efficiently reformulate their menu items. So banning trans fat could mean that your favorite independently-owned fried chicken joint down the street will be shuttering its doors.”(17)

Consequently, a trans-fat ban would breed legal exceptions and inconsistencies. For example, in Illinois bakeries were exempted from their ban because lawmakers knew that it would drive up their costs and hurt the bakeries specialty items. Many other small businesses would be similarly affected Restaurants and other specialty vendors who use trans-fat products on site would also be affected. Lawmakers then have a choice of either reducing the effect of the ban and including lots of bureaucratic exemptions or punishing these businesses.(9) Tina Pantazis, the manager of Dino's Burgers, which operates two hamburger outlets in California, argues: "The only effect [a ban on trans fat]  is going to have on the consumer is that we are going to have to raise our prices."(19) 

Counterpoint 

Many large and small chains have already made the transition to alternatives to trans-fat, so it is entirely possible. These alternatives will get cheaper with time as they are used more frequently and as the companies that produce and distribute them increase their sales volumes and are able to sell them for lower prices, meaning that small and individual restaurants will indeed be able to afford them and survive. Moreover, the health concerns in this debate override purely economic concerns or the closure of small businesses, as lives are involved.

Bibliography 

(1) Washington Post Editorial. “Ban Trans Fats”. Washington Post. 6 November 2006. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/11/05/AR200611...

(2) Laurance, Jeremy. "Ban trans fats and thousands of lives will be saved, UK told". Independent. 16 April 2010. http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/news/ban-trans-fats-and-thousands-of-lives-will-be-saved-uk-told-1946458.html;

(3) Winters, Catherine. "How to Spot Sneaky Fat: The Truth About Hidden Trans Fats". Ladies Home Journal. http://www.lhj.com/health/weight-loss/essentials/how-to-spot-sneaky-fat-the-truth-about-hidden-trans-fats/;

(4) Guiterrez, David. "Study: Hidden Trans Fats Boost Women's Infertility Risk by 70 Percent." Natural News. 25 January 25 2007. http://www.naturalnews.com/021500.html;

(5) Becker, Gary and Posner, Richard. "The Trans Fats Ban--Posner's Response to Comments". The Becker-Posner Blog. 24 December 2006. http://www.becker-posner-blog.com/2006/12/the-trans-fats-ban--posners-response-to-comments.html;

(6) Wilkinson, Emma.” Medics call for ban on trans-fats in UK food”. BBC. 16 April 2010.  http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/8622723.stm;

(7) Tuberville, Jazmyn. “Illinois lawmakers consider ban on trans fats”. The Daily Northwestern. 11 May 2011 http://www.dailynorthwestern.com/city/illinois-lawmakers-consider-ban-on-trans-fats-1.2562268;

(8) Stier, Jeff. “Trans Fat Ban's Economic Impact, from Fries to Soybeans”. American Council on Science and Health. Healthfactandfears.com. http://www.acsh.org/factsfears/newsID.892/news_detail.asp;

(9) Maisch, Kim Clarke. "Trans-Fat Ban Unhealthy for Small Business." National Federation of Independent Business. http://www.nfib.com/nfib-in-my-state/nfib-in-my-state-content?cmsid=56923;

(10) Hoenig, Jonathan. “In Defense of Trans Fat”. Fox News. 3 November 2006. http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,227362,00.html;

(11) Stossel, John. “What Will They Ban Next?”. RealClearPolitics. 20 December 2006.  http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2006/12/what_will_they_ban_next.html;

(12) Winter, Don. "EDITORIAL Trans Fat: The Choice Between The Law Or The La, La, La’s Of Someone’s Whim". Resident Media. http://50.22.33.103/node/313;

(13) Roberts, Paul. "Banned foods and misinformed consumers". Los Angeles Times. 20 June 2008. http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-op-roberts-grier20-2008jun20,0,38...

(14) Editorial: Chicago Sun Times. “Trans fats are bad, but state ban worse." Chicago Sun Times Editorial. 15 May 2011. http://www.suntimes.com/opinions/5358486-474/editorial-trans-fats-are-bad-but-state-ban-worse.html;

(15) Raffetto, Meri. "The Sneak Attack Of Trans-Fats." EveryNutrient.com. 2004. http://www.everynutrient.com/TheSneakAttackofTransFats.html;

(16) Choice. "Hidden danger - trans fats in foods." Choice. 26 June 2009. http://www.choice.com.au/reviews-and-tests/food-and-health/food-and-drink/nutrition/trans-fats-in-foods.aspx;

(17) Irwin, Carlie. "Trans fat ban: Good for you, bad for restaurants?". Girls Guide to the Galaxy. 18 April 2011. http://girlsguidetothegalaxy.com/2011/04/18/trans-fat-ban-good-for-you-bad-for-restaurants/;

(18) Pugliese, Gerald. “New York Times on Banning Trans Fat”. DiseaseProof. 12 October 2006. http://www.diseaseproof.com/archives/hurtful-food-new-york-times-on-banning-trans-fat.html;

(19) Steinhauer, Jennifer. “California bans trans fats in restaurants”. The Seattle Times. 26 July 2008. http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2008074309_transban26....

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