The King County Board of Health on Thursday banned artificial trans fat and required nutrition labeling for menu items in chain restaurants. The ban (or the) measure applies to Seattle and most of its suburbs despite objections from restaurant owners and food-industry officials.
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.
The menu labeling rule only affects chain restaurants with 10 or more outlets and that have standardized menu items. Starting in August 2008, those restaurants will be required to list calories on menu boards, and calories, carbohydrates, saturated fat, and sodium on printed menus.
With the vote, King County joins a handful of jurisdictions in the country to ban artificial trans fats in restaurant meals and becomes only the second to require nutrition labeling on menus. A nutritional labeling requirement and ban on trans fats in restaurants took effect July 1 in New York. Like a New York City regulation adopted last December, King County's artificial trans fat phase out occurs in two steps. Food service establishments have until April 1, 2008, to switch to trans-fat-free frying oils and shortenings and until February 1, 2009, to remove artificial trans fat from other products.
'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.' health providers and a number of diabetic and heart patients in the standing-room-only crowd said customers deserve to have enough information to make healthful choices.
From coast to coast, cities and counties are starting to take bold steps to help their citizens eat healthfully at restaurants, which are supplying more of America's calories than ever before,' said CSPI nutrition policy director Margo G. Wootan. 'The King County Board of Health is empowering restaurant patrons to make informed food choices for their kids and themselves. I hope chain restaurants respond by putting nutrition information on menus everywhere, not just where they are required to do so by law. Many restaurants are already abandoning partially hydrogenated oil for deep-frying and baking, and the rest need not wait for more of these measures to pass to get rid of it altogether.'
Opponents were most vehement about the labeling requirement. Chris Clifford, a Renton resident who said he's owned several restaurants in King County, said very few customers need labeling to know that a 16-ounce steak rolled in butter is fattening. He said that it would be better to put a warning on the door saying 'Eating here is fattening and could kill you.'
restaurant owners said the labeling requirement was unworkable and expensive, would possibly drive customers elsewhere -- and pleaded for more time to find a less onerous solution.
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, spokesman for Public Health -- Seattle & King County, said the menu-labeling requirement will affect about 2,000 restaurants out of more than 10,000 food establishments in King County, including meal programs, fair booths and farmers markets.