New York City, other jurisdictions should move forward with trans fat, menu labeling regulations

WASHINGTON—KFC’s announcement that it is switching to a trans-fat-free frying oil is winning praise today from the group that filed suit against the chain in June. The nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is formally withdrawing from the lawsuit aimed at forcing the chain to stop using trans-fad-laden partially hydrogenated oils for deep-frying.

Though trans fat will remain in KFC pot pies and biscuits, CSPI says that the chain seems serious about switching to healthier oils in those products also. KFC now joins Wendy's, Ruby Tuesday, Chili's, Legal Sea Food, and several other national restaurant chains that fry in trans-fat-free oils.

"What are McDonald’s and Burger King waiting for now?" asked CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. "If KFC, which deep-fries almost everything, can get the artificial trans fat out of its frying oil, anyone can. Colonel Sanders deserves a bucket full of praise."

KFC has already begun phasing in a low-linolenic soybean oil for deep frying, and is expected to have it in place in all KFC outlets by April 2007. According to CSPI, safe, inexpensive, and tasty alternatives are springing forth from all of the major vegetable oil producers. Nevertheless, the Food and Drug Administration has been delaying action on a petition CSPI filed in 2004 asking the agency to revoke the "generally recognized as safe," or GRAS, status of partially hydrogenated oil, which experts estimate is causing tens of thousands of fatal heart attacks annually. CSPI's goal is to get trans-containing partially hydrogenated oils entirely out of the food supply.

But CSPI says the KFC announcement should encourage New York City, Chicago, and other jurisdictions to require restaurants to make the switch. Jacobson is scheduled to testify before the New York City Board of Health today in support of that city’s trans fat proposal and another important proposal that would require many of the city's large chain restaurants to list calories on menus and menu boards.

In June of this year, CSPI and a Washington law firm sued KFC over its use of partially hydrogenated oil. That firm will continue the lawsuit without CSPI. But if KFC breaks its promise, as McDonald's did several years ago, CSPI says it will take Colonel Sanders back to court.