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Brookline OKs trans fat ban

BROOKLINE -- The heart-clogging fats widely used in doughnuts and other processed treats are verboten in Brookline.

Town Meeting members last night voted 194 to 11 last night to ban trans fats from the town's restaurants and schools, making Brookline the state's first municipality to pass such a measure. The town's action follows a similar ban in New York City that takes effect in July.

"I think it's a great public health step," said Anita Johnson, a Town Meeting member who sponsored the proposal after learning about the ban in New York. "I hope that a trans fat ban will be extended to other cities and towns in Massachusetts."

The ban requires the town's 200 restaurants to stop using trans fats for frying by Nov. 30, 2008, and to end their use in baked goods by April 30, 2009. The town will inspect the kitchens of restaurants and bakeries. Packaged foods, which list trans fats content on labels, won't be affected.

Trans fats are artificially made oils used in frying and everything from salad dressings and margarine to cakes and cookies. While they extend a product's shelf life, they raise bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol, contributing to heart disease.

Not everyone supported the ban. "I'm just personally opposed to legislation about what people eat and what restaurants can serve or regulating what bakeries can put in their food," said Karen Wenc, a Town Meeting member who spoke against the ban. "The number one reason is that I object to singling out one bad food, because what happens is, people are misled and the message that we may be sending is: 'Come to Brookline's restaurants. You can eat french fries now. You can eat as many as you want."'

Town Meeting member Scott Gladstone said he supported the ban but worried that some kosher restaurants might have trouble complying with the new law.

"If it turns out in its application that it's going to be too onerous for kosher establishments, I'm going to move next session to pass a religious exception to the bylaw," he said.

A similar ban could take effect statewide. In July, the Legislature's Joint Committee on Public Health will hold a hearing to consider banning trans fats in 13,000 restaurants.

Bans have been proposed in Boston and Cambridge, but neither have taken action. The effort in Boston stalled when the public health commissioner left for a job with the state. Officials in the Cambridge Public Health Department are trying to persuade restaurants to give up trans fats.

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