KFC's Trans Fats Taking Heat
The food fight continues.
The perpetually hard-charging Center for Science in the Public Interest has launched another legal battle, this time against KFC. Fresh from its recent victory against Frito-Lay (see my item last week on the company's agreement to post more prominent olestra labels on the Light chip products), the nonprofit group today is filing suit against KFC for its continued use of partially hydrogenated oil, a.k.a. trans fat.
In a class-action lawsuit filed in D.C. Superior Court, the group is asking a judge to bar KFC from using trans fat--or at the very least from requiring it to post signs in its restaurants alerting customers that many KFC foods are high in trans fat.
"Grilled, baked, or roasted chicken is a healthy food-and even fried chicken can be trans-fat-free," said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. "But coated in breading and fried in partially hydrogenated oil, this otherwise healthy food becomes something that can quite literally take years off your life. KFC knows this, yet it recklessly puts its customers at risk of a Kentucky Fried Coronary."
CSPI critics were taking aim at the lawsuit even before it was filed. Anticipating the suit, the Center for Consumer Freedom (a group partly funded by the restaurant industry) issued a press release saying the American public would be the losers of any legal action because the CSPI is trying to restrict Americans' food and beverage choices through misinformation, intimidation, regulation and taxation. "This lawsuit isn't surprising. CSPI has spent the better part of five years holding press conferences to threaten legal action over foods including ice cream, french fries, soft drinks, and breakfast cereal. Since consumers aren't abandoning the foods they love, CSPI is using the courts to force its will on all of us."
This afternoon, KFC issued a statement, calling the lawsuit completely frivolous and without merit. "We intend to vigorously defend our position. All KFC products are safe to eat and meet or exceed all government regulations, and we take health and safety issues very seriously. We provide a variety of menu choices and provide nutrition information, including trans fat values, on our website and in our restaurants so consumers can make informed choices before they purchase our products. We have been reviewing alternative oil options, but there are a number of factors to consider including maintaining KFC's unique taste and flavor of Colonel Sanders' Original Recipe, supply availability and transportation, among others."
CSPI says it's not just KFC's chicken that's the problem. Trans fat also can be found in the restaurant's biscuits, potato wedges, potpie and desserts.
CSPI has been a leader in the fight against trans fat, which was once thought to be innocuous but now is considered to be more harmful than saturated fat because it raises one's bad cholesterol (LDL) while lowering the body's good cholesterol (HDL). As a result, food companies must now post the amount of a product's trans fat on its food labels. Restaurants, however, are not required to do so. McDonald's promised to reduce trans fat in cooking oil, but then didn't. Wendy's, however, said last week that it was switching to a non-hydrogenated fat. Now, CSPI is suing KFC to get that chain to do the same. "It's harder to avoid trans fat at KFC than at any other fast-food chain in America," Jacobson said. By frying in such a dangerous oil, KFC is making its unsuspecting consumers' arteries Extra Crispy."
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