Cleveland sues state over trans fat rule

by Jeff Gelski
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CLEVELAND — The city of Cleveland has filed a lawsuit that challenges the state of Ohio’s attempt to prohibit Cleveland and other Ohio cities from restricting the use of industrially produced trans fat in the foods served to customers by local restaurants and food shops. The suit was filed Jan. 3 in the Court of Common Pleas for Cuyahoga County, Ohio.

The Cleveland City Council in April of 2011 voted to ban the sale of non-packaged foods containing industrially produced trans fat by local food shops. The ban was to go into effect for most foods Jan. 1, 2013. It was to go into effect for foods with yeast dough and cake batter, like donuts, on July 1, 2013. Cleveland cited research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Heart Association that demonstrated intake of trans fat increases the risk of coronary heart disease and heart attacks.

Cleveland’s status as a home rule municipality gives it the authority to enact the ban, according to the city. The home rule authority in the state’s constitution says, “Municipalities shall have authority to exercise all purposes of local self-government and to adopt and enforce within their limits such local police, sanitary and other similar regulations as are not in conflict with the general laws.”

The state of Ohio then expanded the definition of food nutrition information, according to the city of Cleveland, in a way that prohibits Cleveland and other municipalities from, among other things, banning the use of industrially produced trans fat.

The Ohio Restaurant Association assisted in the passing of the state legislation.

“There is a national trend among some activists to persuade local governments to enact ordinances that attempt to tell restaurants what food they can serve, how to describe their menu items and how to advertise,” the association said. “Patchwork laws would make it difficult for restaurants to grow their business and create jobs, while making Ohio less attractive to outside economic investment.

“The O.R.A. drafted legislation that stops the trend before it starts in Ohio, worked with key legislators to get the language added into the state budget and successfully lobbied to pass it through the general assembly and be signed into law.”

According to the association, the new state law will keep inconsistent regulations from developing throughout the state and will alleviate restaurant owners’ concerns over labeling, restrictions on marketing to children, banning drive-through windows at restaurants, the labeling of sodium content, the banning of trans fats and mandated allergen labeling.

Cleveland asserted in its lawsuit that the state’s prohibition on local food regulations goes against the state’s constitution based on home rule authority.

“The state of Ohio is on notice that we will not stand for their infringing upon our right to protect the well-being of Clevelanders,” said Phyllis Cleveland, majority leader for the city council.

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