CBS Downplays Danger from Activist Health Commissioner
Regulatory suggestion to limit trans-fats in New York foods results in serving of poor journalism.
The medias latest assault on the so-called obesity crisis delved
into New York Citys asking thousands of restaurants to stop
serving foods made with trans fats, as CBS Evening News anchor
Bob Schieffer put it on Aug. 11. But when an activist government
asks, how long will that stay a request?
New Yorks action followed an ongoing campaign against trans fats by various food industry opponents, especially the Center for Science in the Public Interest. According to CBS reporter Elizabeth Kaledin, if the health commissioner's plan works, New York will be the first major city to get trans fats off the menu. Kaledin didnt explain that the commissioners plan affects 20,000 restaurants and 14,000 supermarkets and food suppliers.
The only way to get 34,000 businesses to do what they were asked will eventually be mandatory regulation. Especially since, according to the Aug. 11 New York Times, Dr. Thomas R. Frieden is one of the citys most activist public health commissioners in a generation. And thats the Times saying most activist, not conservatives. That didnt stop ABCs Bob Woodruff on the Aug. 11 World News Tonight saying, It's just a suggestion. And today, some New Yorkers said they will take it under advisement.
He are some other questions the media coverage didnt address:
- How bad is trans
fat?: According to Kaledin, Even the name sounds toxic.
Oddly enough, even the anti-food industry CSPI doesnt entirely
agree. The group has a Web site entitled Transfreeamerica.com that
includes information about its crusade. The question and answer
section contains this question: So should I avoid every molecule
of trans fat? Based on the New York plan, the answer is Not
necessarily. Trans fat is not a toxin that will kill everyone who
eats even a tiny amount. It's worth avoiding foods in which
partially hydrogenated oil is one of the first few ingredients on
the label, but not worth worrying about if partially hydrogenated
oil is down near the end of the ingredient list. (Ingredients are
listed in order of predominance.)
- What really is
affected? According to the N.Y. health department, its a
pretty sweeping list: Commercial vegetable oils used by
restaurants for cooking, frying, and baking often contain trans
fat, as do many margarines, shortening, and pre-fried foods, baked
goods and snack foods.
- How much will it
cost? If you believe the health department, it wont cost a
thing. The press release that was sent out along with the
request included three quotes from restaurant owners and chefs,
including Arthur Gregory, owner of A & M Roadhouse in lower
Manhattan. Weve been cooking with trans fat free oils in our
kitchen for many years. Food prepared with trans fat-free oil
tastes just as good, has a cleaner fresher taste and doesn't cost
any more, said Gregory. News reports disagreed, but made no
mention of the health departments claim. Kaledin said the switch
to soybean oil was Twice the price. And the Times Marc Santora
wrote that trans fats can be hard to replace without raising
costs or changing the taste of familiar food like cookies and
French fries. None of the reporting raised the question of what
impact such price hikes would have on the restaurant industry.
- Who will make
the decision on what to eat? Kaledin claimed, We have
educated consumers and they're going to drive the restaurants to
change Thats not what the health department vowed in its
letter. Consumers want healthier choices when eating out and will
be asking for trans fat free options, said the release. But
options werent what the commissioners office was seeking. The
health department followed that line with three ways to To clear
your kitchen of trans fat.
- What does
business have to say? From watching CBS, youd never know.
Rather than talk to unhappy business owners, Kaledin relied on
Samantha Heller, a senior clinical nutritionist at NYU Medical
Center. In a HealthDay News article from April 12, Heller
complained about limited health care funding. The government
allots its funds to other places not a whole lot into public
education and health," she said. The CBS story also quoted a
restaurant owner in favor of the move, but didnt include any
opponents. To know more about what restaurants think, why not ask
the National Restaurant Association? According to a statement on
their Web site, The Association believes that positive nutrition
messages and education, rather than blame and mandates, are better
suited to the promotion of healthy lifestyles.