FDA wants to help consumers count calories in food, beverages away from home

By Sara Wyant

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WASHINGTON, Nov. 25, 2014 - In an effort to further address obesity in America, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will unveil new regulations today, requiring nutrition labels on menus in restaurants, super markets and even that buttery bucket of popcorn in movie theaters.

Calorie counts will also be posted on salad bars, bakery items, and soda dispensers. A companion rule requires calorie labeling for vending machines, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). The new rules are expected to start taking effect one year from now.

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The rules apply to foods and some alcoholic beverages served at chains with 20 or more outlets nationally. The menu labeling law was passed in March of 2010 as part of the Affordable Care Act and represents a bipartisan compromise brokered by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., CSPI, the National Restaurant Association and top chain restaurant owners.

"Menu labeling is the biggest advance in providing nutrition information to consumers since the law that required Nutrition Facts labels on packaged foods was implemented 20 years ago," said CSPI nutrition policy director Margo Wootan said. "It will soon seem strange that once it was possible to go into a Chick-fil-A or a Denny's and not see calories on menus and menu boards.”

The National Restaurant Association's President and CEO Dawn Sweeney said her association

“joined forces with more than 70 public health and stakeholder groups to advocate for a federal nutrition standard so that anyone dining out can have clear, easy-to-use nutrition information at the point of ordering - information that is presented in the same way, no matter what part of the country. 

“From Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine, diners in restaurants will have a new tool to help them make choices that are right for them,” she explained in a statement.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro applauded the Obama Administration for issuing what she described in a statement as “a robust final rule on menu labeling.”

“I applaud the Administration for issuing a strong rule and, while I am still reading the final version, it looks very much in line with congressional intent,” said DeLauro. “Americans eat nearly half their meals and snacks outside of their homes, and research shows that many of these foods have more calories and poorer nutritional quality than those prepared at home. Calorie and nutrition transparency is crucial for empowering consumers to make healthy choices, and is one tool to address our public health crises of obesity and diabetes.”

Yet, others argued that the new rule will exceed what Congress originally intended.

“FMI is extremely disappointed that FDA used a five-word clause in the 3,000-page Affordable Care Act to expand chain restaurant menu labeling rules to grocery stores,” said Food Marketing Institute (FMI) President and CEO Leslie G. Sarasin in a statement responding to the new rule.

“Grocery stores already provide an abundance of nutritional information well beyond calories and have done so for decades. They should not be pulled into a menu labeling law and regulation designed for a different industry. 

Sarasin argued that FDA's menu labeling rule will “redirect hundreds of millions of dollars away from grocers' efforts toward expansion of their offerings of fresh, minimally processed, locally produced items, such as cut cantaloupe, mixed salads, or steamed seafood. Clearly, this was not the intent behind a requirement for menu labeling in chain restaurants.”

FMI supports efforts led by Reps. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, R-WA., Jack Kingston, R-GA, and Loretta Sanchez, D-CA, and Senators Roy Blunt, R-MO, and Angus King, I-ME, and about 100 co-sponsors of the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act (H.R. 1249/S. 1756) to return the menu labeling regulations to the original intent of the law.”

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