House votes to ease menu labeling rules

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Feb. 12, 2016 - Pizza chains, supermarkets and other retailers would get some relief from new menu labeling requirements under a bipartisan bill that has easily passed the House. 

The Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act, which the House approved 266-144, would soften penalty provisions in the labeling regulations and also give pizza chains, grocery delis and convenience stores flexibility in how they post calorie counts. 

Many restaurant chains have already starting complying with the labeling regulations, which take effect in December as a requirement of the Affordable Care Act that Congress passed in 2010.

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Thirty-three Democrats supported the bill (HR 2017) to revise the rules, but the measure's Senate prospects are uncertain. Sens. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Angus King, I-Maine, introduced a companion bill (S 2217) in October.

No hearing has been scheduled on their bill, but Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., wants to see it enacted.  A spokesman for the committee said Blunt “is on the right track” and “Alexander looks forward to reviewing this legislation and finding a path forward to pass this bill into law.”

The chairman of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., told Agri-Pulse this week he would consider addressing the issue in the fiscal 2017 spending bill for FDA if the legislation stalls. 

The White House stopped short of threatening to veto the bill but said in a statement of administration policy that the legislation would unnecessarily delay the regulations and undercut the government's efforts to combat obesity. “If enacted, it would reduce consumers' access to nutrition information and likely create consumer confusion by introducing a great deal of variability into how calories are declared,” the statement said. 

Under the bill, supermarket delis and convenience stores wouldn't have to label every product they sell, but could instead post calorie counts on menu boards. Pizza delivery chains such as Domino's would be allowed to post calorie counts only on their websites instead of in stores.

Retailers that are found in violation of the rules would be given 90 days to take corrective actions before federal, state or local agencies could take action against them. 

Leslie Sarasin, president and CEO of the Food Marketing Institute, which represents the supermarket industry, said the bill would allow grocery stores to “provide this important information to their customers in ways that are most accessible and useful to the customers for whom it is intended.”

Texas Republican Michael Burgess, who is a physician, argued that the menu rules were yet another example of government intrusion. He said the bill is “critical to avoid harming consumer choice, harming jobs and harming small business."


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Many health advocacy organizations have urged lawmakers to leave the labeling rules alone. They say, among other things, that the bill would allow restaurants and other establishments to arbitrarily determine serving sizes for menu items.

Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, a California Democrat who has owned and operated several restaurants in the Bay Area and co-authored a state labeling law, said FDA should be left alone to revise the labeling requirement as it is needed.

“It's major piece of prevention. It's a major piece of public health,” he said. 

DeSaulnier acknowledged that independent restaurants such as the ones he owned are exempt from the regulations.

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