Reason Roundup

World Health Organization Declares Global War on Trans Fats: Reason Roundup

Plus: Lawyers can't overrule a client's wish to maintain innocence says SCOTUS and Cloyvr moves to decentralize apps.


Richard B. Levine/Newscom

Haven't we heard this one before? Regularly demonized by the press and politicians just a few years ago, trans fats haven't been getting much attention lately. But if you thought this debate was done, surprise! It's really just getting started.

On Monday, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced a plan to eliminate industrially produced trans-fatty acids from the global food supply within five years. Because the WHO has no power of its own to accomplish this, it's pressuring governments around the world to enact trans-fat bans.

The WHO trans-fats campaign is a first for the organization, which doesn't usually call for global elimination of things that can trigger chronic disease, Tom Frieden, president of Resolve to Save Lives and a former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told Vox. WHO "successfully led the elimination of other infectious diseases, such as smallpox and river blindness, but never before has the world set its sights on eliminating a noncommunicable disease."

Trans fats occur naturally in some meats and cheeses, but their biggest gateway into our bellies has been through vegetable oils, margarine, Crisco, and other manufactured foodstuffs that rely on partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. There's strong evidence suggesting high trans fat consumption is linked to heart problems and a decrease in cognitive functioning, perhaps even serving to speed up decline in folks with early-stage dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

As with so many studies on isolated ingredients and human disease, it's unclear how much is too much for human consumption. In any event, mounting public fear of trans fats had U.S. food companies drastically reducing or cutting trans fats entirely from their products long before public health officials stepped in. But as governments, including ours, became increasingly fixated on "solving" obesity and chronic lifestyle diseases, they began turning with increasing animosity toward trans fats.

Denmark became the first country to ban trans fats in 2004. In 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administraiton declared trans fats to be no longer "generally recognized as safe," a ruling that was finalized in 2015. At that time, the FDA gave U.S. companies three years to phase out trans fats "or seek food additive approval for those uses." That means we're in final countdown territory on trans fats now: June 2018 is the trans-fat free deadline.

Ironically, the reason trans fats wound up so prevalent in American diets in the 20th century was because of another nutrition nanny crusade, this time against lard. Convinced that saturated fat was the big trigger behind heart disease, public-health officials and groups (plus the makers of "vegetable fat" products like margarine and Crisco) convinced consumers that animal-fats were bad news and trans-fat laden hydrogenated oils a healthier alternative. The market responded by replacing products high in saturated fat—now generally recognized as much healthier than trans fatty acids—with those that relied on partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.

Now, "if the world replaces trans fats, people won't taste the difference, food won't cost more, but your heart will know the difference," Frieden said.

This, of course, was basically the same pitch used last century to spur the switch from animal-fat-based products to trans-fat based ones. And as some are already noting, "the replacement fats [for trans fats] have their own problems."


Attorneys can't overrule a clients' wish to maintain innocence. U.S. Supreme Court justices ruled 6-3 in favor of Robert McCoy, the Louisiana death row inmate whose lawyer said evidence of his guilt was overwhelming and entered a guilty plea on McCoy's behalf. McCoy—accused of murdering three people in 2008—said he wished to maintain his innocence even if it meant he would surely get the death penalty instead of life in prison. (A jury ended up sentencing McCoy to death regardless of the lawyer's plea.)

"The Sixth Amendment guarantees a defendant the right to choose the objective of his defense and to insist that his counsel refrain from admitting guilt, even when counsel's experienced-based view is that confessing guilt offers the defendant the best chance to avoid the death penalty," wrote Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the Court's decision.


Blockchain? There's an app store for that. A new company from the former head of J.P. Morgan's blockchain unit will function like an app store for "decentralized applications." Called Cloyvr, the company—founded by Amber Baldet and Patrick Mylund Nielsen, another ex-J.P. Morgan employee—has had folks in the crypto world buzzing.

Cloyvr will allow "people and businesses [to] experiment with a multitude of decentralized apps and services, developer toolsets, and underlying distributed ledgers," reports Fortune. "The cofounders envision the platform serving as a neutral ground, offering a browser-like dashboard for the blockchain-curious, through which Clovyr can provide support and other services to customers according to their needs."