McDonald’s has not kept its two-year-old promise to eliminate artificial trans fat from its cooking oil and the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is not lovin’ it. Today, the nonprofit food-safety and nutrition watchdog group is running a full-page ad in The New York Times urging the fast-food giant to stop frying in artery-clogging partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (PHO). Trans fat is a more powerful promoter of heart disease than any other fat, and PHO is the leading source of trans fat in Americans’ diets.
“America’s favorite French fries are about to get even better,” claimed McDonald’s in a 2002 press release announcing that the company would reformulate its cooking oil with less trans fat. McDonald’s received tremendous favorable publicity for the move, which the company said was a step toward eliminating trans fat from its cooking oil altogether. But in 2003, the company backtracked with significantly less fanfare. A terse press release stated cryptically that McDonald’s would “extend the timeframe” for the change, which still has not occurred. McDonald’s is now being sued in California by BanTransFat.com, Inc. for misleading the public about the abandoned switch.
CSPI’s ad, headlined “A broken McPromise,” shows a heart attack victim receiving CPR. The ad contains an open letter to Mike Roberts, and urges citizens to visit a CSPI website, www.TransFreeAmerica.org, for more information. “Trans fat causes tens of thousands of heart-disease deaths each year,” the ad copy states. “So why did McDonald’s break its promise to eliminate trans fat from its cooking oil?”
“Partially hydrogenated oil should not be in the food supply, and the government should revoke its approval of the ingredient,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. “McDonald’s shouldn’t wait around for a government ban to go into effect. McDonald’s and Mike Roberts should just keep their promise. Considering how harmful partially hydrogenated oil is, it is reckless and irresponsible for McDonald’s or any other chain to use it.”
CSPI launched TransFreeAmerica in May, when it formally petitioned the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban the use of PHO in food. Although new labeling rules are encouraging manufacturers of processed foods to switch to safer oils, restaurants are not yet subject to any nutrition labeling requirements and have less incentive to stop using PHOs. A second legal petition that CSPI filed in July asks the FDA to at least require restaurants to disclose on menus or signs that they use partially hydrogenated oils.
“Partially hydrogenated oils may be cheap, but saving a few pennies per pound is not a sufficient reason for McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Applebee’s, Krispy Kreme, or any other chain to put its customers at greater risk for premature death,” Jacobson said. “If McDonald’s in Denmark can switch to a healthier frying oil, so can McDonald’s in the USA.”
Although small amounts of trans fats occur naturally in beef and dairy foods, most trans fat in Americans’ diets comes from PHO. Once thought to be safer than saturated fat, trans fat is now known to have much more adverse effects on blood cholesterol levels. By raising LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, and lowering HDL, or “good” cholesterol, trans fat is responsible for tens of thousands of heart-attack-deaths each year. In 2003, the National Academies’ Institute of Medicine concluded that people should consume as little trans fat as possible.
In August, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) concluded that people should consume 1 percent or less of their calories from trans fat, approximately what people would consume from naturally occurring sources of trans fat. Even just one small bag of McDonald’s fries cooked in the current partially hydrogenated oil blend has 3.4 grams of trans fat, about a day-and-a-half’s worth, under the DGAC’s new recommendations. If McDonald’s fried in liquid canola or soybean oil, the fries could be trans-fat-free.
CSPI’s ad, “A broken McPromise,” can be found at www.TransFreeAmerica.org and in the “Washington and beyond” edition of The New York Times. CSPI says it will undertake similar efforts in the weeks and months ahead to get food manufacturers to switch to healthier oils and to build momentum for a government ban on partially hydrogenated oils.