Will Chicago Go Trans-Fat Free?

The New York Times reports that Chicago city council may consider a ban on the use of "trans-fats" in local restaurants.

Edward M. Burke, who has served on the Chicago City Council since 1969, when cooking oil was just cooking oil, is pressing his colleagues to make it illegal for restaurants to use oils that contain trans fats, which have been tied to a string of health problems, including clogged arteries and heart attacks.

If approved, nutrition experts say, the ban will be the first in a major city, following the lead of towns like Tiburon, Calif., just north of San Francisco, where restaurant owners have voluntarily given up the oils. In truth, while the proposal’s prospects are uncertain, Chicago officials have been on a bit of a banning binge these days in what critics mock as City Hall’s effort to micromanage residents’ lives in mundane ways.

The aldermen voted in April to forbid restaurants to sell foie gras. They have weighed a proposal to force cabbies to dress better. And there is talk of an ordinance to outlaw smoking at the beach.

Even Mayor Richard M. Daley, who often promotes bicycle riding and who not long ago appointed a city health commissioner who announced he was creating health “report cards” for the mayor and the aldermen, has balked at a trans-fat prohibition as one rule too many.

“Is the City Council going to plan our menus?” Mayor Daley asked.

But Mr. Burke, pointing to increases in obesity, diabetes and heart disease, is unapologetic. He does not profess that better oils would suddenly make Chicago skinny but says that they would at least begin to alleviate some of the related coronary concerns.

“If it were just about adults, I would say, ‘O.K., we should butt out,’ ” Mr. Burke said in an interview. “But youngsters are assuming diets that are unhealthy.”

And if the City Council had agreed to simply steer clear of peoples’ bad habits, said Mr. Burke, an influential alderman who long pushed to ban smoking in indoor public spaces, Chicago might never have passed the smoking ban that went into effect this year (it gives taverns and restaurants with bars until 2008 to comply). “We may be the last civilized city in the world to ban it,” he said.

Under Mr. Burke’s proposal, establishments that failed to remove “artificial trans fats” from their kitchens would be fined $200 to $1,000 a day. . . .

Faced with criticism, Mr. Burke said he was willing to consider changes to his proposal as it heads to a City Council committee, where its fate is anyone’s guess. If mom-and-pop restaurants would be unfairly harmed, he said, perhaps he would agree to rewrite the legislation to single out only fast-food chains.