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MoCo Moves Ahead On Menu Labeling

The Montgomery County Council appears on course to require most of the county's chain restaurants - from Pizza Hut to Applebee's - to list the nutritional information of food items on menus or menu display boards. The council's health committee this afternoon unanimously embraced the measure and sent it on to the full council for a vote - likely early next month.

The council resisted efforts by the restaurant industry to narrow the bill to apply only to establishments with three locations within the county's borders. There was some sympathy for the industry from Council member Roger Berliner (D-Bethesda-Potomac) who suggested an amendment that would give restaurant owners some flexibility in presenting the nutritional information.

"I'm trying to ensure that we don't overreach and build in as much flexibility without burdening business. I think you can do both," he said.

Berliner's amendment didn't get any support from fellow committee members - co-sponsors George Leventhal and Duchy Trachtenberg. But he might have better luck when he brings his suggestions to the full council.

Meanwhile, California's Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar measure over the weekend, calling it "impractical" and saying it "puts burdens and costs upon some restaurants owners while imposing no burdens or costs on others." Read Schwarzenegger's full veto message here.

By Ann Marimow  |  October 15, 2007; 4:57 PM ET
Categories:  Ann Marimow  
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Ann, thanks for your reporting. The menu labeling bill is tentatively scheduled to come before the full Council on November 13.


Posted by: George Leventhal | October 16, 2007 10:05 AM | Report abuse

This is a civilized move in a healthy direction. I like junk food, but if folks knew what some of these things do to their bodies...I just don't get it.

Posted by: Donny | October 16, 2007 10:40 AM | Report abuse

This will do nothing to prevent people from eating whatever they want. In Canada, for instance, the Government puts graphic pictues of cancer victims on each pack of cigarettes (while charging about $12 per pack). I don't have firm numbers but it seems to me that EVERYONE there smokes, so I see no real benefit from campaigns such as this. The only thing it is sure to do is cost businesses more which will in turn, be passed on to the consumer like every other "feel good" measure that the Government burdens us with.

Posted by: BG from PG | October 16, 2007 1:13 PM | Report abuse

While I too recognize the limitations on influencing folks eating habits, its much tougher to affect adults who are eating themselves into oblivion or smoking themselves into hospitals largely at non-smokers' expense. What I've seen and experienced is that children can be educated and influenced BEFORE they become 300 or 400 pounds and they can become convinced that smoking will kill you before they hit a pack a day.

My Mom has smoked since the '50's when tabacco companies were still able to hide the cancer and emphesacema dangers. She has not been able to stop smoking (added nicotine is chemically addictive). She DID make damn sure her kids knew of the danger and made sure we did not smoke (except for the occasional cigar - she'll never know). I'm making sure my kids don't smoke or eat too much junk food or fast order crap. Its OK occasionally, but every person I ever knew who was 350 pounds and up (and all the related health problems) overdid every meal and could not stop. These types of health-educational measures are inexpensive and effective (even marginal effectiveness is worthy of the effort). Big-business will always be against the education, because it may cut into consumption and profits....therefore its the government's role.

Posted by: Donny | October 16, 2007 2:39 PM | Report abuse

I guess this is what you have to do when your voters are too stupid to take care of themselves.

Posted by: Rufus | October 17, 2007 1:24 PM | Report abuse

Ann thanks for bringing attention to this important piece of legislation. I am glad to see that Montgomery County gets it and is working to improve the health of its citizens.

There is nothing wrong with getting chain restaurants to provide nutritional information at point-of-purchase to educate consumers to make informed choices.

It is easy to blame the individual and glorify the big businesses!

Posted by: Vivi | October 22, 2007 9:25 AM | Report abuse

Why don't we have menu labeling in DC? I find it amazing that restaraunts expect me to put food into my body without knowing what is in it. In the new health-conscious world we live in today, where conditions like heart disease and cholesterol are running rampant, I don't think it's too much to ask for some words to be printed a package.
If restaurants want my family's business
they are going to have to meet us along the way with this.

Posted by: Frank | October 23, 2007 10:47 PM | Report abuse

I think menu labeling is an excellent thing. Since there is no real way for a consumer to know the recipes of different dishes that are served, there is no way for them to be able to judge the nutritional values of the items. Menu labeling provides that information. It is about being able to make an informed personal choice while in a restaurant.

Posted by: Kelly | October 24, 2007 12:33 AM | Report abuse

I think Menu Labeling is a great thing, it doesn't mean people will always eat healthier but they have the right at least to know what it is they are eating- Especially those who are trying to eat healthy or are on a diet. The choice is then in the consumers own hands!

Posted by: Leah | October 24, 2007 8:47 AM | Report abuse

I completely agree with Leah. DC really needs to take Montgomery County's lead and start moving Councilmember Mendelson's menu labeling act. I know that many DC restaurants are concerned about the costs of having their menus analyzed. However, I've researched the fees charged by nutrient analysis labs around the country and found the cost of analyzing a 50-100 item menu is typically under $1,000. Most restaurants can probably recoup those expenses in a single day.

We don't need to pretend that posting nutrition information on menus will solve the nation's obesity crisis. However, consumers who want information about the food they are eating should be able to access it at point-of-purchase. Menu labeling is catching on across the country, and DC has the opportunity to join Montgomery County as a leader on this issue! I think everyone should contact Councilmemember David Catania (the Chair of the DC Council Committee on Health) and urge him to pass the DC menu labeling act.

Posted by: Emily | October 24, 2007 10:10 AM | Report abuse

Menu labeling is a great way to help customers make educated buying and consuming decisions if they want to! They do not have to pay attention to it if they don't want to and this bill would not impose dietary restrictions on anyone. Simply stated, this menu labeling helps consumers make informed decisions.

As for burden and cost to the restaurants....the way the bill is written, chain restaurants would only be affected. Most have already analyzed the nutritional content of their menus (they are posted mostly online). Why not bring the information to the customer's attention at point of sale?

Posted by: Christina | October 24, 2007 10:25 AM | Report abuse

I commend the Montgomery County Council for taking such an important step.

Some would say that the responsibility shouldn't be placed on business, but on the consumer to make better eating choices. But how are we supposed to do that when studies show that even nutrition professionals have difficulty determining accurate calorie counts in restaurant foods.

To make progress in the fight against obesity, we as a society need to start making some significant changes--menu labeling is a step in the right direction.

Posted by: Anna | October 25, 2007 11:58 AM | Report abuse

Making smart nutrition decisions starts with having the information in the first place! I think that it's great that Montgomery County is taking a step in the right direction by proposing menu labeling legislation. Now if we could only get DC to resurect their legislation as well, we would be one step closer to a healthier Washington Metro area.

Posted by: Amanda | October 29, 2007 11:26 AM | Report abuse

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