June 13, 2006 — -- The fast food chain KFC is being sued for the fat content in its fried chicken, which Center for Science in the Public Interest says contains "staggering amounts" of trans fat.
One three-piece Extra Crispy combo meal has 15 grams of trans fat, which is more trans fat than a person should have in one week, says the CSPI.
"The class-action suit... asks that the court prohibit KFC from using partially hydrogenated oil, or that at the very least, signs be posted in KFC outlets notifying customers that many KFC foods are high in trans fat," said a CSPI press release. The suit was filed in Superior Court of the District of Columbia.
"Unlike McDonalds, where fries are a side dish, here the main item on the menu has staggering amounts of trans fat," said Jeff Cronin, CSPI's communications director.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, trans fat is made when vegetable oil is hydrogenated, or when hydrogen is added to it. This process increases the shelf life and flavor stability of these foods.
However, KFC spokesperson Laurie Schalow issued a statement saying that the suit was frivolous and lacked merit.
"We take health and safety issues very seriously," the statement said. "We provide a variety of menu choices and provide nutrition information, including trans fat values, on our website and in our restaurants so consumers can make informed choices before they purchase our products."
Her statement also said that the company is "reviewing alternative oil options, but there are a number of factors to consider including maintaining KFC's unique taste and flavor of Colonel Sanders' Original Recipe, supply availability and transportation, among others."
Many clinical trials have shown how unhealthy trans fats are, said Dr. Meir Stampfer, chair of the Department of Epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health.
"These include raising LDL (the bad) cholesterol, lowering HDL (the good) cholesterol, increasing weight, and impairing insulin resistance."
However, not everyone thinks a lawsuit is the answer to getting Americans to consume fewer trans fats.
"Legislation to achieve this makes more sense than litigation," said Dr. David Katz, associate professor of Public Health and Director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine and an ABC News contributor. "While I think it's too extreme to sue food companies over everything that is wrong with product composition, it does help get their attention."
Katz said that warning labels may help alert consumers about the health risks in certain foods. If warning labels are placed on ingredients that are unnecessary and potentially harmful, then trans fat would be one such ingredient that needs such a label, he said.
However, "If you put a skull and crossbones warning on every fast food package containing trans fats, that might help get the message to consumers, but the responsibility to ensure a safe food supply rests with the FDA," said Joanne Shearer, a registered dietician and team leader of the Food and Nutrition Services at Avera Heart Hospital of South Dakota.
Many experts also believe in the importance of educating the public.
"A warning label is not enough. People need to be educated and understand why eating foods with high levels of trans fat is unhealthy," said Lona Sandon, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and an assistant professor of Clinical Nutrition at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.
In the long run, this may have the biggest impact, Katz said.
"The best way to change what the food industry does is to change consumer demand [since] demand trumps supply," he said.