Will conformity come to nutrition disclosure in restaurants?

Articles
March 02, 2009

Will conformity come to nutrition disclosure in restaurants?

Restaurants are facing more legislative pressure in different municipalities to post calorie counts, cook without trans fats, and overall be better partners in their clientele’s battle against obesity and disease. The latest salvo came in February when a three-judge panel of the federal appellate court, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, ruled that Congress intentionally exempted restaurant food from the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990 (NLEA), and left the door open for state and local governments to decide if information like calorie counts ought to be required, said a New York Times account.

Restaurants are facing more legislative pressure in different municipalities to post calorie counts, cook without trans fats, and overall be better partners in their clientele’s battle against obesity and disease.

The latest salvo came in February when a three-judge panel of the federal appellate court, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, ruled that Congress intentionally exempted restaurant food from the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990 (NLEA), and left the door open for state and local governments to decide if information like calorie counts ought to be required, said a New York Times account.  

The ruling squashed a National Restaurant Association (NRA) challenge to New York City’s 2007 regulation which requires most major fast-food and chain eateries (at least 15 sites operating nationally) to prominently display calorie information on their menus, the Times added.

The city’s position is that “consumers are learning more about the food before they order, and the market for healthier alternatives is growing,” Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the health commissioner, was quoted.

According to the Times, the NRA could appeal further to the U.S. Supreme Court, ask the current panel to reconsider its decision, or ask the full court to rehear the case.

Since the fall, the NRA, through its Coalition for Responsible Nutrition Information (CRNI), has sought a uniform federal standard for nutrition-information disclosure for chain foodservice companies across the U.S. This is preferable to “a growing patchwork of regulation that is not helpful to the consumer and is harmful to restaurateurs, increasing expenses and leaving them open to frivolous lawsuits,” it said in a public policy issue brief.

CRNI believes consumers in chain restaurants should have access to a broad range of nutrition information, including sodium, fat, trans fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, carbohydrates, sugars and protein, in addition to calories, the brief reads.

NRA’s Congressional allies include Senators Tom Carper (D-Delaware) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and Congressman Jim Matheson (D-Utah), who introduced the Labeling Education and Nutrition (LEAN) Act of 2008 back in September. It seeks the uniform standard and “a reasonable range of flexibility” for restaurants to comply.

It would, for example, deliver consistent data to consumers, rather than the calories only required by the New York City menu labeling law, and the calories, sodium, saturated fat and carbohydrates required in Seattle.

Momentum is building for nutrition disclosure by restaurants. California has a calorie posting law now too. Local ordinances in Oregon could soon mushroom into state legislation. Massachusetts wants calories to be counted too, and has a Mass in Motion initiative underway to fight obesity. 

SupermarketGuru.com concurs with the urgency of cities and states to clearly put in front of people the nutritional tradeoffs they make for taste in restaurants. We also like the logic of the NRA position for uniformity in nutrition disclosure. What we would like most, however, is more healthful offerings on menus so they become the rule rather than the exception, and so they could be bought easily without tiresome special requests upon ordering. That would be a true service and a kindness to customers.