Filed Under: Food Police Food Scares

Confessions Of A Food Scaremonger

McDonald’s recently reached an $8.5 million settlement with a California lawyer after the restaurant chain didn’t replace the trans fat in its food on a previously announced schedule. The lawsuit was part of an aggressive push against trans fat spearheaded by a tag-team consisting of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and Harvard researcher Walter Willett. We’ve pointed out before that CSPI actually has a great deal of responsibility for the rise of trans fat in our diets. Now Willett has publicly acknowledged his culpability for pushing people toward trans fats.

A New York Times report on the history of restaurants’ use of trans fats includes this paragraph:

In the 1980’s, on scientists’ advice, the industry replaced saturated fats like coconut oil and butter with oil containing trans fat. Now nutritionists have changed their edict. “There was a lot of resistance from the scientific community because a lot of people had made their careers telling people to eat margarine instead of butter,” said Walter Willett, chairman of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health and one of a handful of medical researchers who have led the fight against trans fat. “When I was a physician in the 1980’s, that’s what I was telling people to do and unfortunately we were often sending them to their graves prematurely.”

That’s a startling admission. Of course, the havoc Willett claims to have wreaked is based upon the supposition that trans fat causes between 30,000 and 100,000 deaths per year. Where do these often quoted and dubious trans fat figures come? Willett himself.

Trial lawyers looking to sue food companies over the ingredients in food take note: nutrition “experts” change their minds all the time. So maybe next time Willett and CSPI should think twice before crying trans fat. You never know who they’ll hurt.

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