King County bans trans fats 'Obesity epidemic' also propels board to require nutritional labels

SEATTLE - A measure banning artificial trans fats and requiring nutritional labeling for menu items at chain restaurants has been approved by the King County Board of Health.

The measure, which applies to Seattle and most of its suburbs, was adopted after about six hours of discussion at a standing-room-only hearing Thursday over the objections of food industry and restaurant officials.

"This legislation is being driven by an obesity epidemic," board Chairwoman Julia L. Patterson said. "This is a very important element in helping to end that."

Opponents were most vehement about the labeling requirement, the second of its kind nationwide. A nutritional labeling requirement and ban on trans fats in restaurants took effect July 1 in New York.

Few if any customers don't know that a buttered 16-ounce steak is fattening, said Chris Clifford of Renton, who said he has owned several restaurants.

"I have a six-letter word to describe them: It's 'stupid,' " Clifford said. "You can't help stupid people."

Instead, he suggested a warning at the door: "Eating here is fattening and could kill you."

Others, in a more serious vein, said labeling was unworkable and expensive and asked for more time to find an alternative.

Health providers and some diabetic and heart patients in the crowd countered that diners are entitled to a full nutritional listing.

Lynn Chapman of the American Diabetes Association offered the example of a diabetic single mother of two who lacks the time to cook.

"You need to get that information," Chapman said.

'Dismal failure'

Restaurants "have done very little to provide people with the health information they need," and voluntary efforts have been a "dismal failure," said Margo Wootan, nutrition policy director for the state chapter of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Dr. David Fleming, the county's public health officer, was told to report to the board in 14 months to assure that products without trans fats were available and that the rules were workable.

As of Aug. 1, 2008, any local restaurant in a chain with 10 or more outlets nationally must provide a count of calories, carbohydrates, fats and sodium for each food and beverage item that is on the menu for 60 days - including beer, wine and liquor. Fast food outlets must post the calorie count on the menu board and make the rest of the information available to customers.

James Apa, a spokesman for the Seattle-King County Health Department, said the requirement would cover about 2,000 of the more than 10,000 food service operations in the county, including meal programs, fair booths and farmers markets.

The trans-fat ban takes effect next May 1 for oil and shortening used in regular frying or in spreads and on Feb. 1, 2009, for deep frying.

Trans fats, produced when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil, increase the shelf life and improve the flavor of foods. but have been linked to obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

Thurston weighs in

A ban on trans fat is not currently under consideration in Thurston County, said Dr. Diana T. Yu, health officer for the county Public Health and Social Services Department.

She said the department favors a strategy of urging moderation in consuming fat rather than government regulation.

Thurston County Public Health and Social Services Department