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Oreo Cookies Lawsuit Crumbles

Public interest lawyer Stephen Joseph has withdrawn a lawsuit that sought to ban the sale of Oreo cookies in California.

The lawsuit, filed May 1 in Marin County Superior Court, asserted that the trans fats in Oreos, which make the filling creamy and the cookie crisp, were too dangerous for children to eat.

In dropping the suit, Joseph said he only wanted to get the word out about the dangers of unlabeled trans fats in the chocolate-cookies-with-white-stuff-in-the-middle.

Kraft Foods spokesman Michael Mudd said the courts aren't the place to make nutrition policy. He said Kraft Foods continues to research ways to get trans fat out of Oreos while preserving the flavor.

Joseph filed the suit after reading articles about the health threat posed by the artificial fat that is contained in most packaged foods, but isn't listed with other nutritional information.

The National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine, which advises the government on health policy, said last summer that this kind of fat should not be consumed at all. It is directly associated with heart disease and with LDL cholesterol, the 'bad' kind that accumulates in arteries.

But the U.S. Department of Agriculture said partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, which contain trans fats, are present in about 40 percent of the food on grocery store shelves.

Cookies, crackers, and microwave popcorn are the biggest carriers of trans fats, which are created when hydrogen is bubbled through oil to produce a margarine that doesn't melt at room temperature and increases the product's shelf life.

The Food and Drug Administration has tried to force food companies to list trans fat content with other nutritional information on food packages, but manufacturers have challenged the rule. Even food labeled "low in cholesterol" or "low in saturated fats" may have high percentages of trans fats.

Informing customers about trans fats on food labels could prevent 7,600 to 17,100 cases of coronary heart disease and 2,500 to 5,600 deaths per year, the FDA has estimated.