As nutrition activist groups have grown, their campaigns have become more sophisticated and their attacks more severe. But as a look back at the last two decades of ingredient blacklisting will show, a gain for nutrition nannies means that even greater demands are not far behind. Just consider the progression of the food cop war against trans fats.
Twenty years ago, nutrition activists launched an all-out assault on fast food leaders, pressuring them to replace beef fat with trans fat in their cooking. Restaurants voluntarily switched. But soon a few studies suggested that margarine wasn’t the miracle fat that food cops had claimed. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) — the same organization that had pushed for the switch — scrambled to exonerate hydrogenated oils from a number of studies linking them to increased levels of blood cholesterol. In 1988 the group wrote in its Nutrition Action Healthletter: “All told, the charges against trans fat just don’t stand up. And by extension, hydrogenated oils seem relatively innocent.” A year later, CSPI reiterated, “the Bottom Line … Trans, shmans.”
The most ardent trans fans soon changed their tune.
By the late ‘90s, the very same groups who had thrust trans fats on the food industry were leading the campaign against them. First they called for labeling. Then they lobbied for city-wide bans, and many laws went into effect. Ultimately, they expanded their goal to include state-wide prohibition. And last month, California became the first state to ban the shortening.
Trans fat regulation went from zero to 60 in only two decades — a timeline that sets a dangerous precedent. Now nutrition activists aim to add even more “dangerous” ingredients (salt, caffeine, etc.) to their “bad” food blacklist. And without any pushback, they just might succeed.