Food-Scold-in-Chief Michael Jacobson is at it again. In an op-ed published last week by the San Francisco Chronicle, the executive director of the misnamed Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) renewed his call to outlaw many of the foods we enjoy. This time Jacobson’s taken his ban-first-ask-questions-later mentality to partially hydrogenated vegetable oils and the “trans fats” they contain. While he angrily insists that trans fats are responsible for as many as 30,000 deaths a year (a highly questionable figure), Jacobson fails to mention that he is largely responsible for their heavier concentration in the American diet. In fact, CSPI was trans fats’ most vocal defender.
According to trans fat opponent Dr. Mary Enig, a Ph.D. nutritionist who has edited both the Journal of the American College of Nutrition and Clinical Nutrition, the blame for trans fat falls largely on Jacobson and CSPI. She wrote in the fall of 2003:
It is impossible to measure the hazards and grief that [CSPI Director of Nutrition Bonnie] Leibman and Jacobson — the leaders of the major nutrition “activist” consumer organization — have inflicted on many millions of an unknowing public.
The story began in the 1980s, when CSPI launched an all-out assault on fast food restaurants that used beef fat and palm oil to cook their French fries. Jacobson led protests in front of restaurants and organized a massive postcard campaign aimed at their corporate headquarters. By the early ’90s, most chains had replaced CSPI’s hated beef fat and tropical oils with the only real alternative: partially hydrogenated oil. Jacobson claimed victory.
Along the path to “success,” CSPI busied itself exonerating hydrogenated oils from a number of studies linking them to increased levels of blood cholesterol. In 1988 CSPI wrote in its Nutrition Action Healthletter: “All told, the charges against trans fat just don’t stand up. And by extension, hydrogenated oils seem relatively innocent.” And in a second article a year later, CSPI’s Leibman wrote, “The Bottom Line … Trans, shmans.“