Fast food Restaurants in Cleveland Ohio

fries.JPGAsociated Press fileAn Ohio Senate budget amendment would block Cleveland from enforcing its trans fat ban at fast food restaurants.

The Ohio Senate has added an amendment to the proposed state budget at the request of the Ohio Restaurant Association that would ban local municipalities from regulating the ingredients fast food-type eateries can use to prepare foods.

If left in the budget bill, it would trump the Cleveland law, which passed in April as part of the "Healthy Cleveland" initiative and bans restaurants from using cooking oils containing trans fats starting in 2013.

"To see individuals who I have never spoken to decide to do this without referencing that we did this with the assistance of our local health systems to try to help people live longer kind of makes me wonder what is going on here, " said Cleveland City Councilman Joe Cimperman.

"We're not talking about what people think about the constitution, we're not talking about politics, we're talking about people actually living longer because of some of the more common-sense things we're trying to do in terms of public health, " said Cimperman, a Democrat who chairs the council's public health committee.

The Ohio Restaurant Association wrote to the council on April 7 to oppose the law, saying the Cleveland ordinance creates a burden for small-business owners by requiring them to keep extra documentation for ingredients used and is largely unnecessary because most restaurants have already voluntarily stopped using oils with trans fats.

"We see a clear national trend among some activists and governments to pass ordinances to try to tell restaurants what food they can serve, how they describe their menu items to customers and in some cases how they market their businesses, " Richard Mason, director of governmental affairs for the restaurant association, said in an interview.

Mason said after losing its fight in Cleveland six weeks ago, the restaurant association turned to the Republican-controlled legislature for help.

"With what the Cleveland City Council did, it just made us think that this might be the beginning of a trend in Ohio and we knew that would be bad for the restaurant industry, " Mason said.

State Sen. Scott Oelslager, a Canton Republican, is the amendment's sponsor. The provision, added to the budget bill last week, specifically bans local governments from "enacting or continuing in effect local legislation that bans, prohibits, or otherwise restricts a food service operation" that is considered to be a fast food business.

"The philosophy behind the amendment is there simply shouldn't be a patchwork of these types of legislation throughout the state of Ohio, " Oelslager said. "There should be a uniform regulation to protect consumers."

Oelslager's amendment would give the director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture power to oversee restaurants and impose regulations that would apply everywhere. The Senate was poised to approve the budget bill on Wednesday.

Mason said if cities are allowed to enact their own policies it could hurt job creation. He predicted Cleveland's law would do little to save lives because restaurants are already making health-conscious adjustments without such mandates.

"The Cleveland city ordinance requires restaurants to keep records that prove that they aren't cooking with trans fat oils. . . so that when an inspector comes along they can document this, " Mason said.

"It has added a regulatory burden and in our way of thinking, it almost certainly will not benefit the health of the people of the city of Cleveland, " he said. "It's just government bureaucracy to no good end."

The "Healthy Cleveland" plan, an ongoing initiative, got started after Cleveland Clinic CEO Toby Cosgrove met with Mayor Frank Jackson last October to talk about the city leading an effort to make it citizens healthier.

Asked to comment on the budget amendment, the hospital issued a statement on Tuesday.

"There are no health benefits to trans fats, only consequences, so eliminating the use and consumption of trans fats is essential to the health of Cleveland and the community, " said Clinic spokeswoman Eileen Sheil.

Cimperman said the amendment is yet an another intrusion by the legislature on Cleveland's home rule rights under the state constitution.

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