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Mmmmm, Trans Fats

Albany County continues its battle over the future of pastries

‘This discriminating law wants us to change the way that we have been baking for over 50 years,” said Dominic Mainella, the owner of Bella Napoli Bakery, of a law in Albany County banning the use of trans fats. “Changing time-tested formulas, and reducing the quality of our baked goods, that’s business suicide. Cracking down on five or six of us is wrong.”

The ban, which was passed in 2007, was intended, as the legislature claims, to continue “the mission to protect and promote the health of the citizens of Albany County. . . . Limiting overall fat intake and eliminating Trans fat is part of a heart healthy diet.”

The use of artificial trans fats in local restaurants and other food service establishments in Albany County was to be banned in 2009. The local restaurants were to eliminate the use of trans fats by January 1, while the bakeries were to eliminate it by July 1.

Last year, Republican Legislator Christine Benedict put in legislation at the May meeting requesting the Board of Health exempt the bakeries, which failed. At the time, the bakers were assured that they would be able to receive one-year waivers from the ban.

Democrat Gil Ethier said that he thought the waivers, though they were an annoyance, were a fine compromise last year. However, he said, last month he heard that the Board of Health planned to begin fining bakeries that weren’t in compliance.

Mainella said that he has been out of compliance since June 27, and is therefore vulnerable to being fined. He said that he is 90 percent within compliance, but even that has been a struggle.

Since the law was passed, he said, he has “spent a lot of money and a lot of sleepless nights. I have had to reformulate or catch up with the shortenings that I am supposed to be using. This bill has prevented me from expanding into other aspects of the business.”

He said that half of his products weren’t made with trans fats to begin with, but that his icing, puff pastries, fillings, and other staples of his business do rely on trans fats. He said you can see the difference in the donuts fried at his Troy location, where there is no restriction, when compared to the donuts fried at his Latham location. “I had to refund money because of donuts, because of cakes,” he said. “The industry is not ready yet, California, New York City, Boston, here, a couple of municipalities, the industry is trying to catch up. But the bakers don’t like it.”

Perhaps most grating, beyond the disruption to his business, he said, is that the larger, chain bakeries, such as Dunkin Donuts, Price Chopper and others aren’t restricted by the county law. These larger bakeries are regulated by the state, and are therefore exempted by the lesser government’s regulation.

Ethier pointed out that there is a law in the state Assembly currently that would ban trans fats statewide, and although he doesn’t support it, he said at least it would be more fair.

At the most recent meeting of the Albany County Legislature, Ethier’s resolution to repeal the trans fats ban altogether was expected to come to the floor for a vote.

“I didn’t agree with this law a year ago,” said Ethier, “and I have a resolution now to turn it back. And I was assured in the caucus meeting by the chairman of the legislature that it wouldn’t be sent back to committee. Tonight, it’s going to be a ‘yes’ vote or a ‘no’ vote.”

Ethier later said that he was talking directly to the small bakery owners in the audience, trying to assure them that the legislature would “do the right thing.” However, when it came time for the vote, Chairman Dan McCoy instead sent the bill to the Health Committee.

This led to confrontation between McCoy and Ethier, with Ethier railing at the chairman for, as Ethier claimed, going back on his word to hold a vote, and with McCoy trying to maintain order. At one point McCoy even threatened to have Ethier evicted from the chambers.

“I’ve been put out of better places than this,” Ethier responded.

Ethier told Metroland he thinks that McCoy sent it to committee because the votes were in place to pass the resolution. “I don’t think that they wanted me to defeat them, especially with Republican votes.” Repealing a law that was sponsored by many of the Democrats, including McCoy and Majority Leader Frank Commisso would be an embarrassment.

With the bill back in committee, Ethier said that he hopes to find a compromise that helps the small bakeries like Mainella’s. Ethier said that he would agree with the compromise that bakeries label any products that have trans fats in them. It is also a compromise that seemed to appease Mainella.

—Chet Hardin

chardin@metroland.net




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