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Kentucky Fried Coronaries? Doctor sues KFC for trans fats

25th August 2006

Colonel Sanders may lose his finger-lickin' appeal if a private lawsuit in the US wins when it gets to court.

Retired doctor Arthur Hoyte, of Rockville, Maryland is seeking to force the fried chicken fast food chain KFC to provide clear warnings to consumers that the products may contain harmful trans fatty acids (trans fats). His complaint springs from his purchase of fried chicken at KFC outlets in Washington, DC, and elsewhere, not knowing that KFC fries in partially hydrogenated oil.

"If I had known that KFC uses an unnatural frying oil, and that their food was so high in trans fat, I would have reconsidered my choices," said Hoyte. "I am bringing this suit because I want KFC to change the way it does business. I'm doing it for my son and others' kids-so that they may have a healthier, happier, trans-fat-free future."

His action is supported by the campaigning organisation Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), which claims that the widespread use of oil that has been hydrogenated a process that causes it to become laden with trans fats is contributing to the premature death of an estimated 50,000 Americans per year.

"Grilled, baked, or roasted chicken is a healthy food-and even fried chicken can be trans-fat-free," said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. "But coated in breading and fried in partially hydrogenated oil, this otherwise healthy food becomes something that can quite literally take years off your life. KFC knows this, yet it recklessly puts its customers at risk of a Kentucky Fried Coronary."

Box of KFC Liquid ShorteningKentucky Fried Coronaries in the UK? This package found outside a KFC outlet in North London had contained 20 litres of 'Liquid Shortening - Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil'

Once thought to be innocuous, trans fat is now known to be more harmful than saturated fat, since it simultaneously raises one's LDL cholesterol, which promotes heart disease, and lowers one's HDL cholesterol, which protects against it. Trans fats also appear to encourage abdominal obesity, compared with other forms of fat.

Small amounts of trans fat occur naturally in beef and milk, but over 70% of dietary trans fats are produced during industrial hydrogenation, a process which greatly extends the shelf life of fats and oils. They are widely used for deep frying and in fatty products such as pastries, pies, biscuits and cakes.

In the UK, KFC outlets provide no information on the ingredients of its products, and the website is similarly uninformative. Our intrepid team of reporters found, however, that the use of hydrogenated oil appears widespread across KFC outlets in western Europe.

American supermarket shoppers are now provided with trans fat information on their food labels, but restaurants and fast food outlets have been much slower to act. McDonald's famously promised to reduce trans fat in cooking oil in 2002, though it quietly reneged on that promise in 2003. In 2004, California trial attorney Stephen Joseph filed a lawsuit against McDonald's over its broken promise, which the company settled in 2005 by agreeing to pay $7 million to the American Heart Association.

McDonald's still has not changed its oil. In the UK, the McDonald's website admits that the company uses hydrogenated oils in its deep frying.


Center for Science in the Public Interest