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Tomorrow afternoon, Louisville health department director Dr. Adewale Troutman will report to the Health and Human Needs Committee of the Metro Council on the results of a one-year department study of trans fat. As WFPL’s Stephanie Crosby reports, the study came at the request of the Metro Council, but whether it will result in any legislation remains in question.

Councilman Dan Johnson sponsored an ordinance in December 2008 that would have banned the use of trans fat in food preparation in Louisville – that measure was shelved for further study by a health department task force. The panel’s report includes a strong recommendation to ban the additive, which is used to extend shelf-life in a number of food products like margarines, baked goods, and salad dressings.

Troutman says there is no safe level of consumption of trans fat, that it increases a person’s so-called ‘bad’ cholesterol and lowers ‘good’ cholesterol, and raises the risk of heart disease and possibly diabetes. He says eliminating trans fat would prevent hundreds of heart attacks in Louisville each year. New York City and the state of California have already enacted versions of a trans fat ban.

“No one is saying you can’t eat a doughnut,” says Troutman, “You hear people say ‘I’m going to eat what I want to eat’… that’s fine. What we’re saying is that the way the doughnut is made should be that it’s healthier than otherwise.”

Some of the most popular doughnuts and other baked goods in town are at Plehn’s Bakery in St. Matthews. It’s been a Louisville landmark since 1924. Co-owner Bernie Bowling was part of the health department task force’s stakeholder group. His objection is that he just can’t find an alternative ingredient for his famous icing.

“Can you imagine you get a fancy decorated cake like some of those in the case over there, and you get home and the ear falls off the cat because the icing got soft? You wouldn’t be happy,” says Bowling, “That’s our dilemma.”

Bowling and other trans fat ban opponents say a it would be unfair to small businesses who don’t have the resources to spend on research and development to replace their decades-old recipes. A number of large food chains, such as Louisville-based KFC, have already gone trans-fat free, as have a number of small operations. Bowling says even Plehn’s has gone trans fat free in its cakes and cookies – pretty much everything except decorative icing and chocolate icing.

But some on the Metro Council still want to move the ban forward. Democrat Dan Johnson, who initiated the debate a year ago, says he’ll certainly take up the reins again, though he isn’t sure he’ll find much support on the council.

“I think probably being that this is an election year, everybody’s kind of watching their P’s and Q’s,” says Johnson, acknowledging that a trans fat ban might not be popular in home districts.

“I think sometimes you have to do what’s right for your constituents,” he adds.
“Even if they don’t want it?” asks Crosby.
“Even if they don’t want it.”

“We’re still about people eating and choosing to eat, products that they’ve purchased,” says Republican Councilman Kevin Kramer sits on the Health and Human Needs committee. “We’re not talking about something somebody’s sneaking into the food stream. This is you have a choice, you can purchase it or you can not. You can choose to not.”

Kramer sees very little support for a trans fat ban on the Metro Council. He prefers an education campaign by the health department, and maybe a requirement to include trans fat information on food labels in restaurants.

An education-only campaign is mentioned in the task force’s report, but the panel says that has been ineffective in other places and only desirable as a step toward a future ban.