Networks Eat Up Food Police Message on Trans Fats

     KFC announced it is cutting the trans fats from much of its menu, and the media celebrated not chewing the fat as “another giant step in the movement to make America’s food healthier.”

     But that “giant step,” as ABC anchor Charles Gibson referred to it, was simply another step toward control of what Americans eat. That attitude was embraced by the October 30 evening newscasts on ABC and NBC. The networks trotted out a parade of anti-industry commentators trying to make the nation march to their tune.

     NBC’s Chief Medical Editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman actually compared obesity to smoking. “I think fat is the new tobacco,” she told “Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams. Snyderman grouped fat in with “asbestos,” “overdrinking” and “exposure to cigarettes” as “another toxin we should take out.”

     Both reports cited Dr. Marion Nestle, a food industry critic and former adviser to the anti-industry group the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). Nestle, who once criticized healthier versions of snack foods as foods people “shouldn’t be eating at all,” was eager to claim trans fats could be “easily replaced,” though the National Restaurant Association says otherwise.

     According to a restaurant association press release: “There simply is not currently enough oil available for some restaurant chains.”

     ABC’s Nancy Cordes also quoted Nestle comparing food to tobacco. “The ways in which foods are marketed are very similar in which cigarette companies marketed their products. And I think that’s a point of vulnerability – is marketing to children.”

     But Cordes went even further, introducing another anti-food industry spokesman with this misleading comment: “But many public health officials say the food industry isn’t abandoning trans fats out of the goodness of it’s heart, or for the goodness of consumers’ hearts.”

     She didn’t follow that statement with a “public health official” – she followed it with another anti-industry speaker – Kelly Brownell, who has a long history working with CSPI and serves as the director of the Yale Center for Eating and Weight Disorders.

     In June 2000, Brownell co-authored a report with CSPI Executive Director Michael Jacobson, urging a new food tax be instituted. “Small taxes on soft drinks, candy, gum, and snack foods are a sensible way to fund health-promotion programs,” said Brownell. “Those programs could result in better health and lower health-care costs.”

     This time Brownell gave full warning of the food police agenda. “The issue is much bigger than trans fat. And it’s true the industry is running scared. They have a lot to lose here.”

     Ironically, CSPI hasn’t always opposed trans fat, as BMI has previously reported. Nutritionist Mary Enig slammed CSPI for pushing fast food companies to adopt partially hydrogenated cooking oils in the late 1980s and early 1990s. “In 1988, CSPI published a booklet called Saturated Fat Attack, which defended trans fatty acids and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils and called for pejorative labeling of ‘saturated’ fats,” Enig wrote in an article entitled “The Tragic Legacy of Center for Science in the Public Interest.” “The booklet contained a section called ‘Biochemistry 101,’ which claimed that only tropical oils were dangerous when hydrogenated.”