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SAN FRANCISCO -- California public interest group BanTransFats.com Inc. has filed suit in San Francisco federal court against McDonald's, alleging that the Oak Brook, Ill.-based fast-food giant's broken 2002 promise to reduce trans fatty acids (TFAs) in its meals amounts to false advertising.
In a statement, the not-for-profit organization said it had no intention of seeking monetary damages. "BTF is asking the court to order that McDonald's take effective steps to inform its customers about its failure to make the change," said the group in the statement. "BTF is also asking that McDonald's make the change to the new cooking oil as soon as possible, just as it promised and represented to the public." To illustrate the danger of trans fats, BanTransFats.com pointed to a Harvard School of Public Health report estimating that a minimum of 30,000 premature heart disease deaths result from ingesting them.
Back in September 2002, McDonald's said that it would start cooking with an "improved cooking oil" to reduce by 48 percent the trans fats in French fries and other deep-fried foods it offers. The company originally was scheduled to make the change by February 2003, but late that month it released a statement that said it was extending the time frame for the switch, with no new deadline provided.
McDonald's spokeswoman Lisa Howard said, "In February of 2003 we made a broad public statement that the change in our cooking oil was taking longer than anticipated and would be delayed. Since that time we have been successful in reducing TFA levels in McNuggets and other chicken offerings. We continue to work hard to achieve our ambitious goals for reduction of TFAs in our cooking oil, and we're committed to getting it right for our customers. Because we haven't seen the lawsuit, we can't respond to any of its specific allegations."
BanTransFats.com also sued Kraft Foods in April to try to prevent the company from marketing and selling Oreos to children in California, until the cookies were free of partially hydrogenated oil or other trans fats. When Kraft responded that it would cut down on or remove trans fats from the product, the organization dropped the suit.