The War on Trans-Fats

An emblem of the arrogance of central planning that characterizes the Obama administration.


Having failed to enact stricter gun control measures or oust the dictator of Syria, Bashar Assad, the Obama administration is going after a new target — margarine.

Here's hoping that those yellow sticks of Fleischmann's and Mother's manage, somehow, to fend off the Food and Drug Administration.

Personally, I've long since switched to extra virgin olive oil on my bagels, and either Earth Balance buttery sticks or butter for baking. But as someone who grew up eating margarine, the notion that the federal government is preparing officially to ban it, as the FDA recently announced, strikes me both as truly bizarre and emblematic of the arrogance of central planning that characterizes the Obama administration.

The FDA says the "trans fat" in old-fashioned margarine causes heart attacks. But plenty of other things also cause heart attacks that the Obama administration has not yet prepared to ban. Television causes heart attacks by encouraging sitting around on the couch and watching it rather than exercising. Cigarettes cause heart attacks. The Burger King Triple Whopper Sandwich meal will give you a heart attack. Too much Ben & Jerry's Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream will give you a heart attack.

Yet the FDA has it in for margarine, not for hot fudge sundaes or television or even Triple Whoppers, all of which would, under the FDA's proposed action, remain legally available for sale, unlike margarine. Perhaps if the effort to legalize marijuana continues to succeed, newly out-of-work drug dealers can repurpose themselves as black-market margarine pushers. Or perhaps margarine-craving Americans will be left to smuggle the stuff in themselves while returning from overseas trips. Perhaps consumers will resort to purchasing margarine illicitly over the Internet, like re-imported prescription drugs from Canada or tax-free cigarettes from Indian reservations.

Beyond the inconsistency of it, there's the failure to accommodate individual preferences. Margarine use in my family was a consequence in part of the Jewish religious prohibition on mixing milk and meat. If you wanted a baked potato with your steak or a chocolate chip cookie for dessert, using margarine rather than butter was the kosher approach. Other margarine consumers may be vegans for philosophical reasons involving animal rights.

And different people may choose different approaches to managing their heart attack risks. Some people may exercise daily, see their cardiologist regularly, take cholesterol-lowering medication, and avoid egg yolks, fried food, or fatty meat — yet still want some margarine in their Thanksgiving pie crust once a year. Other people may avoid margarine, but live sedentary lifestyles, never go to the doctor, not take their medicine, and otherwise take plenty of health risks. Just as the trans-fat ban fails to accommodate religious or philosophical differences, it also fails to accommodate individual choices when it comes to overall health decisions.

In researching the war on margarine, I discovered it turns out to have a long history. As Adam Young reported in a 2002 article in The Freeman, the Federal Margarine Act of 1886, passed at the behest of the dairy industry, imposed a tax on margarine and also annual license fees for margarine wholesalers and retailers. State laws, under the guise of fraud prevention, banned coloring margarine to make it look like butter. At the height of the frenzy, oleomargarine bootleggers ended up in federal prison, Katherine Mangu-Ward reported in Reason.

It looks as if we are about to come full circle. Stock up now at your local supermarket and put enough in the freezer to last until we get an administration with the sense to leave this kind of bread-and-butter issue to individual choice.

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  1. Wait, so now margarine is bad, but butter is ok? Or are they both bad? wtf, I can’t keep up. Which is exactly why nobody has any business putting this into a law.

    1. I agree government has no business putting this into law. The whole idea that eating cholesterol / fats / saturated fats /some saturated fats causing heart disease was much more of a political move by the McGovern Commission than solid science.

      The argument against trans fats has similar difficulties. There are solid associations, but no direct causation. (Dropping out of high school is associated with teen pregnancy, but it certainly doesn’t cause the baby!)

    2. Personally, I think people should be able to ingest whatever the hell they want. Nature will take care of those who over-indulge. But, if you really want to know about butter vs. margarine, check out this:

      1. The case against refined sugar (and equivalents) is much stronger. People who are worried about animal fat or cholesterol causing heart disease are worried about the wrong thing. I went looking for a chart I love showing US butter consumption vs. heart disease, but it’s gone. Instead I present Meat consumption vs. heart disease by country: http://www.naturalfoodfinder.c…..review.JPG

      2. The problem then becomes that because we are being forced to cover everyone’s healthcare, all of those bad habits add up to a lot of taxpayer money. But the solution is not to ban “bad” behavior, but instead to not require everyone to pay for their poor lifestyle decisions. They’ve got it bass ackwards.

    3. Because we didn’t know everything at one point in the past, we can never possibly know anything new.

      –standard libertarian response to science he doesn’t like

      1. Because Top Men told us something was bad in the past, all the while being wrong, doesn’t mean that Top Men are wrong this time.

        –standard authoritarian cock-gobbler response to quasi-governmental agency regulations

      2. It’s not the new information that people don’t trust, it’s all the conflicting reports about what’s good and bad. It’s the boy who cried wolf effect.

      3. Because the government tried (and keeps trying) senseless acts of prohibition and some of us learned the lesson.

        CLA is a fatty acid found in beef and ruminant (esp. grass-fed) food products that exists in both a cis and trans form. CLA and it’s trans-derivative vaccenic acid exhibits decent anti-cancer, weight management, lipid-profile enhancing properties when artificially introduced in the diet.

      4. Because the government tried (and keeps trying) senseless acts of prohibition and some of us learned the lesson.

        There used to be 1-2 brands of *All Natural* Peanut Butter, that is, peanut butter composed of peanuts and (maybe) salt. There are now dozens of choices of “All Natural” Peanut Butter. I say “All Natural” because they remove the natural, healthy and “green” peanut oil and put in Palm Oil. The non-natural varieties forego the naturally saturated fatty acids and run with straight up fully-hydrogenated vegetable oil.

        Palm Oil is cheap because it’s “All Natural” and fully-hydrogenated vegetable oil is “healthier” because it contains no trans fatty acids.

      5. Because the government tried (and keeps trying) senseless acts of prohibition and some of us learned the lesson.

        In 1992, the USDA introduced the food pyramid with fats to be consumed sparingly at the top and cereals and grains to be consumed liberally at the bottom. This, despite the fact that fats are essential while there are no essential carbohydrates or cereals.

        In 2005, the USDA revamped the food pyramid with the MyPyramid to reflect a more balanced approach to nutrition as well as sneak in the suggestion of physical activity.

        In 2011, the USDA dropped the whole pyramid thing altogether and went with MyPlate. Presumably, the sneaky assertion of exercise was either outside the USDA’s perview, ineffective, or both.

        The plate phenomenally mis-represents the complexities of food production, consumption, and metabolism and pretty decidedly demonstrates that the gov’t is either pandering to the stupid or is itself stupid (or both). With it’s 30%, 30%, 20%, 20%, and then some recommendation.

        At least the graphic artists are busy.

        1. So the only way you’ll accept new regulatory findings is if the government had gotten it perfectly right the first time?

          1. First, the term ‘regulatory finding’ doesn’t exist. It seems like a heavily biased portmanteau of scientific finding and regulatory enforcement; where regulatory force will be applied whether you know it’s right or not.

            Also, you’re inaccurately portraying the situation, I did accept it the first time (Basic 7), they were wrong. I accepted it the second time (Basic 4), they were wrong again. At some point simple reasoning, along with statistics and scientific observation should dictate that we conclude that they may not have the right answer this time either and possibly that the answer may not be in the domain solutions the government can generate or offer.

            When their most recent offering uses math that adds up to more than 100% as it’s faceplate, I just have to follow the evidence. It’s pretty obvious that Walmart, Whole Foods, Jenny Craig, and Weight Watchers hold far more sway over what people eat and in what proportions that any plate spinner at the USDA.

    4. First they come for your salty food, then they come for your oversized sugary soft drinks, then they come for your trans fats, then they come for your butter, then…..

      1. Yeah, what will happen to my 30 grams of chocolate?

        1. It’s supposedly full of anti-oxidants but it’ll taste like crap once the evil fat and sugar are removed.

  2. Is this part of the increasing social tolerance of America?

  3. What is weird is that the government promoted margarine during WWII as a healthy alternative to butter. At least that’s why my grandmother, and my Mom later on, kept buying it after butter became available after the war.

    If you’re going to stock up, stock up on Crisco for cooking. Margarine has no special use, and Crisco lasts forever.

    1. According to my parents, they held that it was because butter was reserved for the armed forces. They lived on farms, so it didn’t apply because they made their own.

      1. This is correct. People at home saved the real butter for the troops and ate margarine as an alternative. But the weird thing is that they kept eating it after the war ended. Wouldn’t logic suggest that they were saving the best stuff for the troops?

    2. I’ve found that margarine is better than butter for sauteeing and for grilled-cheese sandwiches because it doesn’t scorch as readily.

      1. If you’re scorching with butter or margarine, you’re cooking too hot. Olive oil will burn before even butter and you can burn garlic to a crisp in olive oil.

        Maybe, if you’re a short order cook, and the stuff is moving on/off the grill so fast that you don’t have the time and/or control for oil margarine will work or if you really like the taste of the fat or overheated whatever.

        Otherwise, peanut oil for Asian dishes, olive oil for everything else, and, of course, bacon fat as available.

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  5. Butter is controlled by the USDA, not the FDA. So the FDA cannot ban butter.

    1. You underestimate the power of our bettors.

  6. I seem to recall at the time that the conventional medical wisdom, advertising, and official government rhetoric was that margarine was a more heart healthy alternative to be encouraged. I also recall McDonald’s French fries tasting better back when they used beef tallow. But they stopped that after a long period of pressure from health nuts, and official government rhetoric, prompted them to switch to a “healthier” alternative – transfats. If transfats really are that much worse then shouldn’t the government be held responsible for its part in encouraging their use?

    1. CSPI is why the term ‘Health Nazis’ exists.

      During the 1980s, CSPI’s campaign “Saturated Fat Attack” advocated the replacement of beef tallow, palm oil and coconut oil at fast food restaurants, while maintaining that trans fats were comparatively benign. In a 1986 pamphlet entitled “The Fast-Food Guide”, it praised chains such as KFC that had converted to partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, which are lower in saturated fat but high in trans fat. As a result of this pressure, many restaurants such as McDonald’s made the switch. From the mid-1990s onward, however, CSPI identified trans fats as the greater public health danger. CSPI executive director Michael Jacobson went on record saying, “Twenty years ago, scientists (including me) thought trans [fat] was innocuous. Since then, we’ve learned otherwise.”

      In response, three trade groups ? the National Restaurant Association, the National Association of Margarine Manufacturers and the Institute of Shortening and Edible Oils ? “said the evidence [on trans fat] was contradictory and inconclusive, and accused [CSPI] of jumping to a premature conclusion.” Numerous studies and public health agencies have since supported the view that trans fats carry health risks. A Wall Street Journal editorial acknowledged the risks, but argued, on the basis of its previous actions, that CSPI itself was to blame for creating the problem.

      Frequently wrong, but never in doubt.

      1. Jacobson has attacked
        Alfalfa sprouts
        Apple pie
        Baby food
        Baked potatoes with sour cream
        Beef burritos
        Belgian waffles
        Buffalo wings
        Caffe latte
        Caffe mocha
        Canned fish
        Cheese fries
        Cheese manicotti
        Cheese nachos

        1. Cheese ravioli
          Chef’s salad
          Chicken enchiladas
          Chicken fingers
          Chicken nuggets
          Chicken pot pies
          Chile rellenos
          Chinese Restaurants
          Chocolate cake
          Chocolate chips
          Chocolate mousse
          Cookie dough
          Corned beef
          Cream cheese
          Cream of broccoli soup
          Creamed spinach

          1. Eggplant Parmigiana
            Family restaurants
            Fat-free cakes
            Fat-free cookies
            Fat-free ice cream
            Feta cheese
            Food coloring
            French fries
            French toast
            Fried calamari
            Fried clams
            Fried fish
            Fried mozzarella sticks
            Fried rice
            Fried shrimp
            Frozen dinner
            Frozen turkey
            Fruit cocktail
            Fruit drink
            Fruit juice
            Fudge brownie sundae
            Garlic bread
            General Tso’s chicken
            Granola bar
            Greek salad
            Grilled cheese

            1. Gyro
              Ham sandwich
              Home-canned vegetable
              Homemade eggnog
              Homemade frosting
              Hot fudge sundae
              Italian restaurants
              Kung pao chicken
              Lo mein
              Luncheon meats
              Macaroni and cheese
              Meat-stuffed grape leaves
              Mexican restaurants
              Milk shakes
              Movie popcorn
              Onion rings

              1. Orange beef
                Pork chops
                Potato chips
                Prime rib
                Quick service restaurants
                Rotisserie turkey
                Salad dressings
                Sandwich shops
                Seafood restaurants
                Soft drinks
                Spaghetti and meatballs
                Stuffed potato skins
                Sweet and sour pork

                1. Taco salads
                  Veal Parmigiana

                  And people call me a fanatic.

    2. FYTW and how dare you even ask.

      I’m old enough to remember when “common wisdom”, being the gov., the news, the health experts, all and one said that margarine was better for us than butter. This continued up untill about 10 years ago when the wheel began to slowly turn towards butter over margarine.

  7. Is it bad that this news makes me laugh? I agree, I think that buying and selling margarine should be up to the individual. As a health conscious individual I rarely have margarine, and I even prefer the taste of butter. But even butter should be used sparingly. It just doesn’t make sense that they would make a ban on something like margarine.

    1. As a health conscious individual you should never have margarine and eat butter freely, yet wisely like anything else.

      What luck that you “even prefer” the taste of butter.

  8. I’m not interested in stocking up enough to last me.

    I’m interested in stocking up enough to make some serious coin.

    1. Would you trade a stick of butter for one of my incandescent bulbs?

  9. since the central planners never actually know anything useful I think it’s a safe bet to go with natural fats than man-made ones. You know those foods that humans have been evolving over millions of years to live off of.

    That said I think that since all these brilliant asshats caused the transfat problem in the first place I think that they have lost all credibility and certainly should not be allowed to influence public policy.

  10. Wait a minute….
    Margarine is the deadly transfats? I had no idea that’s what they’re talking about. Melted margarine on popcorn is the only way to go. Real butter doesn’t work.

    They will take my popcorn when they pry it from my cold, dead, greasy hands!

  11. It’s inconceivably difficult for me to to imagine a black market like there is for drugs developing for table margarine given that butter tastes awesome where margarine tastes like crap. But that’s still no reason to ban it.

  12. None of those things “cause” heart attacks. Heart “attacks” are caused by heartlessness in the spirit.

  13. “More than decade ago, a sea change began in the American diet, with consumers starting to avoid foods with trans fat and companies responding byreducing the amount of trans fat in their products.”

    Consumers made choices, providers responded. Right there, in the very first paragraph, they demonstrate why government action is not needed, and then go on to describe the forthcoming government action.

    They must be relying on the Stupid Rule “Well, maybe you can do it, but what about those who can’t?” If 5% of the population is deemed incapable of something, anything, then the progs think they have to do it for all 100% of us.

  14. I can’t have toilets that flush all my shit, I will only be able to buy light bulbs that will trigger my daughter’s epilepsy, and now I can’t have any damn margarine? I don’t like butter! It tastes bad. I just finished two eggs and a slice of scrapple, fried in margarine. Delish.

  15. They don’t know whether trans fats or those other fats from the 80’s are worse for us, but hey, Global Warming is settled science! Don’t you dare ask quaestions!

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  17. Which other nutritionally useless poison should food companies be allowed to sell on a mass scale?

    1. How long ago was it that they were convinced eggs and butter would kill us? Should they have been allowed to ban those? Of course it turns out they were completely wrong.

      1. People were wrong in the past, therefore they are wrong now.


        1. So let people be wrong…and by people, I mean the individual.

          1. People sometimes need to be protected from themselves. Some say diet habits are set in childhood. Are children responsible not only for judging whether artificial trans-fats are good for them, but also, say, whether cyanide is?

            You’re all being gooberish about this.

        2. They’ve already proven to have been wrong in the past, so why should we trust that they are suddenly right now?

          FWIW I think they ARE right about margarine … now. But they still hate whole milk and bacon and lard and red meat so if they ban margarine who’s to say they won’t go after other things that they’re (still) wrong on after that?

          1. Well I can’t make you any assurances, but the fact that those other things carry nutritional value and this artificial non-food does not is a meaningful distinction.

        3. The issue isn’t what is or isn’t good for you. The issue is that YOU the individual should get to make those decisions. I tell you what, if they ever make me a TOP MAN, I will decide that repeated electrical torture is good for cock-gobbling authority lovers like you and then impose them upon you. You won’t get to decide, because TOP MEN have decided that it is good for you. Logical conclusion of Tony’s inability to understand the concept of liberty.

          1. Why not let individuals decide when to stop and when to go at street intersections? Why not let individuals decide what’s a crime, for that matter? Everyone making individual choices with no rules always works best. Like in sports, for example.

            1. So what is the limit to your “rules”? Who gets to decide? I think everyone can agree that basic traffic rules are needed. A lot of things that are a crime today shouldn’t be. You telling me what to eat, what to smoke or who to have sex or how with is none of your FB. My personal activities have no impact on you, so you have nothing to say. If I run a stop sign I could kill you. So there is a law for that. If my behavior hurts only me why do you care? Oh, I forgot you can’t live your life without TOP MEN telling you what to do. That doen’t mean the rest of us can’t.

  18. I personally wouldn’t touch margarine or shortening with a 10′ pole, but it’s absolutely bullshit that the government should ban them. It wasn’t that long ago that they were telling us that eggs and butter would kill us. They should not be in the business of forcing their stupid food pyramid down our throats OR banning (or even taxing) any foods they don’t like. Their BS regulation of kids’ school lunches pisses me off to no end.

    1. the best cookies are made with shortening or better yet plain old lard.

      1. You clearly have never eaten my chocolate chip bacon cookies. Butter all the way! Although I guess the inclusion of bacon means that technically they also include lard?

  19. If memory serves me I believe that the government at one time actualy claimed there were health benifits to margarine and other products made with the now evil trans fats. Of course at one time the government also said coffee and eggs were unhealthy but that has been proven to be false.

  20. I think you missed a huge and important piece of this article: as I understand it, the government promoted Margarine since WWII and then, in the 1970s, began a war on saturated fat (e.g. butter) which directly (or at least indirectly) encouraged increased margarine growth. But they were wrong about what was best for us, but don’t worry, I’m sure they know all this time around.

    Meanwhile the free market has decreased average trans-fat intake to 1g/person/day. The American Heart Association recommends less than 1% of calories should be from trans-fats, which works out to 2-4g per person per day. So we are already well under that.

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