Election Section

Bill pushing for more information on food labels killed by committee

By Jennifer Coleman, The Associated Press
Saturday June 29, 2002

SACRAMENTO — An Assembly committee killed a bill Friday that would have required food processors to disclose levels of artery-clogging trans fatty acids in processed foods. 

The bill, by Sen. Debra Bowen, would have taken effect in January 2005 and would have been nullified if the federal Food and Drug Administration created nationwide labeling requirements. 

The measure got only two votes in the Assembly Agriculture Committee, with five members voting against it and eight members abstaining. 

The labels would have included the amount of trans fatty acids — also known as trans fat — which is the product of hydrogenation. That’s the process of adding hydrogen to liquid oils to solidify them in order to add shelf life and flavor stability to food. 

Food processors opposed the labeling because it would create a California-only label and would be a distributing nightmare, said Jeff Boese, chief executive officer of the California League of Food Processors. 

“I haven’t heard any opposition to the idea, the problem has been separate labels,” Boese said. 

The FDA has been debating trans fat labeling for six years, but has yet to require food processors to disclose how much trans fat is in foods. 

“It’s death by delay there,” Bowen said, referring to the FDA’s lack of action. “And in the meantime, there’s actual harm being suffered by Californians not getting the information they need about what’s in their food.” 

Trans fat is found in small amounts in some meats, but more often is found in convenience and fast foods like doughnuts, french fries and chips, said Elisa Odabashian of Consumers Union, a supporter of the bill. 

Two kinds of fat contribute to high cholesterol — saturated fats and trans fat. Saturated fats are already included on food labels, but it takes a savvy consumer and a calculator to figure out the level of trans fats, she said. 

Trans fat is worse than saturated fat, Odabashian said, because while saturated fat increases cholesterol, trans fat increases bad cholesterol and at the same time it decreases good cholesterol. 

Many lowfat food products boast that they’re low in saturated fat, but they often have high levels of trans fat, she said 

“Californians shouldn’t hesitate to call the manufacturers of the products and ask them why they’re not disclosing this information voluntarily,” Bowen said. 

The bill was supported by the American Heart Association, the California Dietetic Association, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. 

It was opposed by the National Association of Margarine Manufacturers, the Chamber of Commerce, the California Grocers Association and the California League of Food Processors.