In an interesting move this week,   New York City's Board of Health voted to make New Yorkthe first U.S. city to ban trans fats in foodservice and restaurant offerings. That includes everything from the corner pizzeria to bakeries to white-table cloth restaurants.

Now, there are good fats, bad fats and down right scary fats-- trans fats dominate the later category. About a year ago, food companies started to eliminate trans fats from retail food offerings as more artery-clogging evidence surfaced. Trans fats actually contribute to heart disease by raising bad cholesterol and lowering good cholesterol. But trans fats still find their way into diets of unknowing consumers, largely in the form of baked goods and deep-fried foods.   

New York City's ban passed unanimously. Restaurants will now be barred from using frying oils containing artificial trans fats by July 1, 2007, and will have to eliminate artificial trans fats from all foods by July 1, 2008. Of course, enforcing the issue is likely to be another matter entirely. Restaurants, especially the quick service variety, also are required to post calorie counts for all menu items. 

Many fast-food chains, including Taco Bell, KFC, Wendy's and Culver's, have already said they will shift away from trans fat cooking oils. McDonald's said it would probably follow suit by 2008, when New York City’s law takes full effect.

Now that one ban is on the books, other cities likely will follow.

Chicago Alderman Ed Burke, presented a similar proposal last spring and is now planning to resurrect it. Burke spearheaded Chicago's fois gras ban.

Apparently a committee is considering limiting the trans fat ban to restaurant companies with at least $20 million in sales annually, which would essentially focus the law on QSRs and large casual-dining chains. Burke said he would also look into a calorie-content posting law similar to New York's. Other cities, such as Cleveland and Wichita, Kan., are studying similar actions.

I'm not saying this is a bad thing-- trans fats are scary. The question is-- is it local “government’s” role to take these kinds of actions? Naturally, if the Food and Drug Administration bans a product, that’s a different story. It's sort of sad, and the pattern is disturbing, that a ban was approved. Restaurants, bakeries, foodservice companies and suppliers should have been proactive in eliminating trans fats themselves. 

The food sector must respond wisely to the right issues, and recognize they are a partner in supplying food.