Senators heard testimony yesterday on two bills aimed at reducing the use of unhealthful fats such as margarine, shortening and partially hydrogenated oils.
The first bill would ban food with trans fats from being served in all food facilities across the state, including restaurants, school cafeterias, and churches and community centers that regularly serve food.
The second bill would prohibit the serving of foods with trans fats in public buildings, such as cafeterias in state government buildings and public school lunchrooms.
"There is a reluctance in some quarters to give [trans fats] up, but I don't think we as a government ought to willfully, knowingly feed people, especially schoolchildren, something we know to be unhealthy," said Sen. Jamie Raskin, a Montgomery County Democrat sponsoring the proposal to ban trans fats in public buildings. "I don't think the state of Maryland should be a participant ... a part of the problem."
More than a dozen states are considering similar bans, and many are facing aggressive opposition from the restaurant and grocery store industries.
In Maryland, officials of those industries argued that the anti-trans fat fervor has created an artificial demand for alternative fats that aren't widely available.
"We'll all be dipping into that same supply at once, and right now that supply is finite," said Kevin Fisk of the Grocery Manufacturers of America.
Sen. E.J. Pipkin, an Eastern Shore Republican, wondered whether the issue of choosing more healthful foods was better left to the marketplace and individuals, rather than to government mandates.
"When does this nanny state end? Where do you draw the line?" said Pipkin, who also raised concerns that the alternatives available, including coconut and palm oils, might be higher in saturated fats and at least as unhealthful as trans fats.
Sara Ducey, a nutrition professor at Montgomery College, told senators that even those saturated fats are more healthful than trans fats, which, she said, "are heavenly in baked goods and fried foods, but once you put them in your body, they wreak havoc."