STEPHEN JOSEPH and BanTransFats.com
STEPHEN JOSEPH and BanTransFats, the consumer advocacy group that he founded, have done more to raise public awareness about the dangers of trans fats than any scientist, doctor or any other health “expert”.
Yet Stephen Joseph is not one of those experts. He is a lawyer – more specifically a public interests lawyer – who had been practicising law since 1980.
In May 2003, Stephen Joseph stirred controversy when he did what was considered an audacious act – he filed a law suit to make food giant Kraft remove trans fats from its highly popular Oreo cookies, made by Kraft subsidiary Nabisco.
At the same time, he formed BanTransFats as a not-for-profit organisation, with himself as President and Chief Executive Officer, and trans fat expert Mary Enig as consultant.
The result was that Kraft eliminated trans fat from Oreos and reduced or eliminated it in about 650 other products.
The Oreo lawsuit produced a huge “domino” effect. It generated unprecedented levels of public awareness about trans fats and their dangers. It further triggered an avalanche of events that led to the US food and Drug Administration making trans fat labelling mandatory in January 2006, and New York City banning trans fats in December 2006.
BanTransFats against McDonalds
Also in 2003, after the oreo suit, Stephen Joseph and BanTransFats sued McDonald’s for misleading its customers into believing that it had switched to a lower trans fat cooking oil.
He won the case in 2005. McDonald’s agreed to pay $7 million to the American Heart Association for a trans fat program. It also agreed to spend $1.5 million to inform its customers that it had not changed to the lower trans fat cooking oil by placing prominent notices in all of its restaurants nationwide and in the media.
BanTransFats at Tiburon
In 2004, Stephen Joseph and BanTransFats made Tiburon, a small City in Northern California on the San Francisco Bay, “America’s first trans fat-free city.”
Throughout the city, restaurants place large stickers with the words “We use trans fat free cooking oil!” This was intended to be an inspiration and model for other towns and cities.
New York City vote to ban trans fats
After BanTransFats announced Project Tiburon in California, Stephen Joseph was contacted by New York City officials who were interested in developing a similar program.
On 5 December 2006, members of the New York City Board of Health voted unanimously to ban trans fats, giving restaurants until July 2007 to switch to trans-fat free frying oils – and until July 2008 to remove all trans-fats from their food.
Today, several other American cities are considering a similar ban, or other curbs, on trans fats. They include Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Seattle (plus the rest of Washington State).
Everybody’s talking about trans fats
New York City ban generated tremendous press publicity, not just in America, but worldwide. And so, consumer awareness about trans fats and its dangers has soared to unprecedented levels.
Before Stephen Joseph established BanTransFats in 2003, hardly anyone knew about trans fats, or its role in promoting heart disease, diabetes, obesity and other killer diseases.
Trans fats were known mainly to scientists and researchers and people in the food industry. Even the average health-conscious consumer did not know about trans fats.
The majority believed that products like margarine, which contain high levels of trans fats, are actually good for health. After all, that is what they have been told by doctors, nutritionists and other health authorities for decades.
Stephen Joseph’s father
Stephen Joseph took up the trans fat battle and established BanTransFats after reading about the dangers of trans fats in several newspaper articles that showed how trans fat is hidden in many of the popular snack foods Americans eat.
He believes his stepfather’s death from heart disease was caused in part by a lifelong diet of margarine and other foods made from trans fat. The man was one of millions of consumers who were health-conscious, watched what they ate, but did not know about trans fats.
Stephen Joseph recalled:
|“My stepfather used to make me feel guilty. He was a slender man that would never order too much, but he ate margarine by the ton – partially hydrogenated soybean oil. He thought it was better than butter. But he developed Type II diabetes and died of a cardiac arrest. “No one, myself included, thought there was any problem with margarine. He didn’t know about trans fats. This was a guy who would have done something if he’d known.”|
The Oreo lawsuit
Stephen Joseph based his suit against Kraft and Oreo on a provision in California law that says companies are not liable for a commonly used but unhealthy product if it is well-known in the community that the product is unsafe.
“But this product, trans fat, is not commonly known to be unsafe,” Stephen Joseph explained. “That’s why trans fat is a far stronger case than tobacco or McDonald’s because people know those are dangerous.”
The law suit was about the hidden nature of trans fat and the fact that Kraft was marketing to children.
In his suit, Stephen Joseph cited the Nabiscoworld Web site, with its games for children/ One school-based program, called the Oreo On-line Project, involved having children stack Oreos as high as possible without toppling the tower.
According to the Orea website, more than 326 schools and classes in America participated in the project in 2002. The website described it as “a FUN way to teach your students math, measurement, working as a team and more.”
In addition to the Oreo suit, Stephen Joseph formed a nonprofit corporation called BanTransFats.com, Inc. . And he printed T-shirts that read, “Don’t Partially Hydrogenate Me.”
The rest, as they say, is history…
BanTransFats is today the leading organization in the US that is working behind the scenes on a daily basis to help the food industry reduce and eliminate trans fat in the food supply.
It is also probably doing more than any other organisation to educate the public about the harmful effects of trans fat. Each year, BanTransFats responds to thousands of inquiries about trans fat from consumers, restaurant owners, bakeries, and the press.
Quotes from Stephen Joseph of BanTransFats
Here are some of the things Stephen Joseph, President and Chief Executive Officer of BanTransFats, has to say about trans fats:
|“Fats don’t necessarily make you fat, they can make you dead. A certain elementary education is necessary for people to make the connections.”|
|“Trans fats are placed into food to increase shelf life, but they decrease human life.”|
FryTest.com – the latest from BanTransFats
In December 2006, Stephen Joseph and BanTransFats announced a new initiative – an independent trans fat free cooking oil contest, designed to provide unbiased information on the different zero trans oils currently available on the market.
Launched in conjunction with Texas A&M University’s oils and fats program, the new test will compare oils based on fat content, fry life, oil degradation, oil usage rate and consumer acceptance.
Te project plans to test oils supplied by 12 companies, including products from all the major oil firms, as well as smaller suppliers. By June 2007, FryTest.com hopes to have tested around 20 oils.
BanTransFats founder Stephen Joseph, who is President and Chief Executive Officer of FryTestcom, said the database compiled from the project will be the nation’s sole collective source of information of its kind.
“One of the reasons I set this up is because I kept looking at the marketing on companies’ websites, and I couldn’t make head or tail of it. Different testing methods were being used, each of which favored a particular product. I wanted to provide a way of neutral testing that didn’t favor anyone,” said Stephen Joseph.