Why I Do What I Do
Stephen Joseph, attorney and trans fat foe
Stephen Joseph, an attorney in San Francisco, filed a lawsuit in May 2003 against Kraft/Nabisco asking the company to stop marketing trans fat–laden Oreo cookies to children. Manufacturers use trans fats, or hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils, in prepared foods to extend shelf life and maintain texture. The downside? Trans fats cause up to 1,200 cases of coronary artery disease and 500 deaths each year, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Joseph dropped his case shortly after filing it, once Kraft agreed to try to eliminate trans fats from the ubiquitous cookies. For more information on his quest, check out www.bantransfat.com.
How did you become aware of the health dangers of trans fats?
A: My stepfather died of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. He tried to be careful, read labels, and lay off sugar, but he was a big margarine eater. Then I read some articles in The San Francisco Chronicle about trans fat. [I was disturbed] by the fact that trans fat is not listed on the nutrition facts label. And by the fact that [trans fat] is much worse than saturated fat and yet so few people knew about it. And by the fact that it is in so many products.
A: Adults can get educated, read labels, and choose what they want to eat. Kids can’t, especially when foods are marketed to them in schools. Kraft is the largest U.S. food manufacturer, and Oreos are its leading baked product. I love Oreos. They are delicious, and I ate plenty of them until I realized they had trans fat in them. Now I buy the Newman’s version, which is trans fat free.
What was the biggest victory of your lawsuit?
A: Kraft is trying to cut trans fat from its foods. Taste a Newman-O cookie, and you’ll find that they can be made without trans fat now. The FDA ruled in July 2003 [two months after the lawsuit was filed] that trans fat has to be identified on food labels by 2006, but the new label isn’t good enough. Food companies should have to put trans fat information on their websites immediately. The FDA says that food companies have to be allowed to use up their existing stock of food labels, but too many people are dying today.
A: I’m keeping an eye on Kraft. If they slip out of line, I’ll be back.