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Suit Against Oreo Cookies Crumbles

May 16, 2003|Jane E. Allen | Times Staff Writer

The San Francisco attorney who sued Kraft Foods to stop it from selling and marketing Oreo cookies to children in California because they contain artery-clogging trans fats has dropped his lawsuit. But he said Thursday he would take his fight against trans fats to Washington.

"This is not abandonment; this is a beginning," said Stephen L. Joseph, a former lobbyist for the energy and aviation industries. He said he next plans to lobby the Food and Drug Administration on proposed trans fat labeling.

Asked about the decision to withdraw the Oreo suit just days after bringing it to reporters' attention, he said the issue of trans fats had become "so thoroughly publicized," beginning with stories published in newspapers Monday, that he would have been unable to convince a judge that consumers remain unaware of trans fat dangers. Joseph said he had accomplished part of his mission by raising consumer awareness.

He filed the suit May 1 in Marin County Superior Court on behalf of Ban TransFats.com, a nonprofit corporation that he formed. The complaint, said to be the first in the nation to target a product containing trans fats, was filed under state consumer laws that permit suits if products are "not known to be unsafe" by ordinary consumers.

Joseph claimed that few people outside the science world were aware that Oreos, along with other cookies, crackers, fast foods and margarine, contain trans fats. Commonly listed on food labels as hydrogenated or partly hydrogenated oils, trans fats give processed foods long shelf life, but have been linked to high cholesterol, heart disease and diabetes.

Michael Mudd, a spokesman for Kraft Foods North America in Northfield, Ill., said the company was pleased with Joseph's decision to withdraw the suit.

"We share his concern for public health and we're doing our part," Mudd said. "We were working on reducing trans fats well before this lawsuit was filed."

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