Health Care Bill Mandates That Restaurants Display Nutrition Information on Menus

August 22, 2009 - 1:34 PM
Restaurant chains with 20 or more outlets would be required to display calorie counts and "suggested daily caloric intake" in their menus.
(CNSNews.com) – Restaurant chains with 20 or more stores would be required to display nutrition information, including calorie counts and “suggested daily caloric intake” on their menus, under a mandate contained in the health-care reform bill drafted by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Section 325 of the bill says the listings must be placed “(i)n a nutrient disclosure statement adjacent to the name of the standard menu item, so as to be clearly associated with the standard menu item, on the menu listing the item for sale, the number of calories contained in the standard menu item, as usually prepared and offered for sale.”
 
Restaurants must also include “a succinct statement concerning suggested daily caloric intake” that is specified by the secretary of health and human services, to “enable the public to understand, in the context of a total daily diet, the significance of the caloric information that is provided on the menu.” 

The legislation would also allow the HHS secretary to require disclosure of additional nutritional information if she considers it beneficial to the health of customers. 

The provisions apply to menu boards -- including those displayed in the drive-thru section of some retail food chains -- and self-service food outlets, where the information would have to be displayed next to every item on display.

Upon request, food venues would also have to provide detailed written information of their dishes’ fat, sodium, and carbohydrate content, among others. 

The disclosure requirements do not apply to unlisted items on the menu, such as condiments -- nor do they apply to promotional food items. 

Daily specials, food selections appearing on the menu for a yearly threshold of less than 60 days, or test items that are on the menu for less than 90 days would all be exempt. 

Under the proposed bill, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration would set the standards for determining whether the nutrition information that restaurants publish was developed on a “reasonable basis.” 

“(A) restaurant or similar retail food establishment shall have a reasonable basis for its nutrient content disclosures, including nutrient databases, cookbooks, laboratory analyses, and other reasonable means,” the legislation revealed. 

The proposal has opponents, but surprisingly, they are not restaurant owners. 

Grace-Marie Turner, president of the Galen Institute, a nonprofit health policy research group, called the nutrition disclosure provision the “pointless and expensive” requirements of “a nanny state.”

"The restaurant calorie-labeling provision would have an economic impact on restaurants,” Turner told CNSNews.com. “The impact will depend upon how the rules are written and which restaurants they apply to. It will mean higher prices for restaurant meals because the costs will have to be passed along to consumers, and it would certainly deter innovation in menu items."
 
But major restaurant chains say they support a national standard for nutrition disclosure, including Darden Restaurants Inc., one of the world’s largest full-service company-owned and operated chain, with approximately $6.7 billion in annual sales and about 180,000 employees.
 
“We support the compromise (nutrition disclosure) language,” Rich Jeffers, spokesman for Darden Restaurants, told CNSNews.com. “We support the agreement because it’s consistent with our commitment to providing nutrition information (consumers) need to make informed decisions.”
 
The company’s Red Lobster, Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, and Bahama Breeze restaurants post nutrition information about their permanent dishes -- as opposed to promotional ones -- on their respective Web sites, he said.
 
“We already provide nutrition information for all of our core menu items on our Web sites and in our restaurants as well,” Jeffers added.
 
“If somebody asks for it (information), it’s available in the restaurant,” he added.
 
The National Restaurant Association, the restaurant trade association, said the industry is united in support of the requirement.
 
“Having one national, uniform (nutrition disclosure) standard is essential, and there is widespread industry agreement that we need a federal legislative approach to create that standard,” said Beth Johnson, NRA executive vice president of public affairs said in an e-mail statement to CNSNews.com Wednesday.
 
Many states – and some localities – already have their own restaurant nutrition disclosure requirements and guidelines, Johnson said.
 
“We believe that we are supporting the approach that has the most realistic chance of passage and the best success in preventing a patchwork of harmful regulation and legislation across the country,” she added. 

“The industry is, in fact, unified about the most critical provision in the nutrition information legislation - the need for federal preemption,” she reiterated. 

A few large chains, including Yum Brands Inc., owner of KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut among others, are reportedly attempting to expand the measure to companies with at least 3 restaurant locations and $1 million in sales.
 
Jonathan Blum, a senior vice president of Yum Brands Inc., told the Los Angeles Times that the mandate’s 20-establishment or more limit only encompasses about 25 percent of the approximately 1 million restaurants in the U.S.
 
The National Restaurant Association, however, said it opposes any move toward further expansion, its spokesman told CNSNews.com.
 
The Senate legislation calls for the HHS secretary to craft a national disclosure standard within one year after the bill’s enactment while taking into consideration “serving size” and the “training” of restaurant workers.
 
According to the bill, the secretary has to take into account the “standardization of recipes and methods of preparation, reasonable variation in serving size and formulation of menu items, space on menus and menu boards, inadvertent human error, training of food service workers, variations in ingredients, and other factors.”
 
A provision also allows for allocation of grants to “a national network of community based organizations” to “highlight healthy options at restaurants and other food venues."
 
The nutrition information disclosure requirement of the Senate panel’s bill is the outcome of bipartisan reconciliation between two similar pieces of legislation attempting to establish a uniform standard for food retailer chains -- the Labeling, Education, and Nutrition (LEAN) Act of 2009, re-introduced by Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) in March; and the Menu, Education, and Labeling (MEAL) Act of 2009, sponsored by Sen. Tom Harkin’s (D-Iowa) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), which was introduced in May.
 
There is similar language in the House Energy and Commerce Committee's health-care bill, which the National Association of Restaurants also supports.