Menu Labeling Battle Begins Anew
Americans expect nutrition labeling on food in the grocery store. Now Congress wants to mandate similar rules for restaurant food.
Today Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) are introducing the Menu Education and Labeling (MEAL) Act, which requires chain restaurants with 20 or more business locations to provide consumers with information on calories, sodium, saturated and trans fats, and carbohydrates.
Lawmakers have introduced similar legislation in the past three congressional sessions. But the focus on health care this year could give the bill a boost; of the $2 trillion spent on health care annually, 75 percent goes to managing chronic diseases that are in many cases preventable, Harkin said.
This bill follows a year of significant action in city and states around the country. Last year, New York City launched an initiative that requires calorie information to be posted on menus and menu boards. And last fall, California became the first state to enact a menu-labeling bill for chain restaurants. (A measure was also introduced in the Montgomery County Council, but it was never passed.)
Studies show that Americans eat more food than ever outside the home and that making healthful choices isn’t as easy as it seems: In a 2007 California poll, on average only 10 percent of respondents could pick the most healthful item from a short list of common fast foods.
The restaurant industry initially opposed any federal rules, but in light of local regulations is backing its own bill, the Labeling Education and Nutrition (LEAN) Act. Introduced in March, the law would be weaker than public health advocates desire, requiring nutrition information to be posted somewhere in chain establishments but not necessarily on menu boards. The bill also preempts stricter local regulations, which the industry says are too varied for national corporations to adhere to.
Who’s right? Would you like more information on menus, or elsewhere? Should it be required?
-- Jane Black
May 14, 2009; 2:15 PM ET
Categories: Food Politics | Tags: Jane Black, nutrition, restaurants
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