KFC drops trans fats

Updated: 2006-10-31 09:28

"Colonel Sanders deserves a bucket full of praise," said CSPI executive director Michael Jacobson. "If KFC, which deep-fries almost everything, can get the artificial trans fat out of its frying oil, anyone can."

Burger King also said Monday that it hopes to begin testing trans fat-free cooking in some restaurants within 90 days. Wendy's has already switched to a zero-trans fat oil. McDonald's had announced that it intended to do so as well in 2003, but has yet to follow through.

The New York hearing on the proposed trans fat ban was packed with doctors and paid industry spokesmen. Long lines at the building's security checkpoint and an overflowing hearing room might have deterred ordinary citizens or restaurant owners from speaking.

But industry representatives like Hunt spoke out.

"This ban threatens popular dishes and affordable menus," he said. "The city needs to get serious about working with, not against, our restaurant owners."

He and others said a ban would leave cooks unable to find proper replacement ingredients, and force some to switch to bad alternatives.

Sheila Cohn Weiss, director of nutrition policy for the National Restaurant Association, suggested that restaurant owners in need of a quick fix would simply switch to another unhealthy substance like palm oil, which contains unhealthy amounts of saturated fat.

"This is a switch that cannot happen immediately," she said.

KFC has concerns about supply, too.

Dedrick said KFC and the creator of the new oil, the Monsanto Corp., had to work with seed oil processors to persuade farmers to grow more of the special soybeans used in the product. Among other things, farmers were offered a price premium to grow the new soybeans.

Monsanto spokesman Chris Horner said he expected the farmland devoted to the company's new seed to triple next year to 1.5 million acres, up from 500,000 acres this year and 100,000 in 2005.

Still, he added, demand for trans-fat-free oils has the potential to outpace supply.

New York's health commissioner, Dr. Thomas Frieden, said officials have heard the supply argument before and rejected it as unsupported.

"We're confident that there is ample supply of healthy trans fat alternatives," Frieden said, although he added that officials might consider giving restaurants more time. The New York City Board of Health is expected to vote for the ban in December with an 18-month period for a full phase-in.

Louis Nunez, president of New York's Latino Restaurant Association, said a quick survey by his group shows at least 980 of its members don't know what trans fats are.

"If this goes in with no education, there is going to be an avalanche of fines," Nunez said.

Even with the development of new oils, finding replacements for every recipe may be tough.

KFC said that even after its changeover, some menu items will continue to contain artificial trans fats, including its popular biscuits.

Although not fried, the biscuits contain a trans fat shortening that has proven difficult to replace. Dedrick said the company would continue trying to develop a substitute.