Senators offer bill to relax FDA's proposal on menu labeling

By Derrick Cain

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WASHINGTON, Nov. 25, 2013 - Two senators recently introduced legislation (S.1756) that aims to ease proposed FDA menu labeling requirements for restaurants, grocery stores and vending machines.

As part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, FDA issued two proposed regulations that would require calorie labeling on menus and menu boards in chain restaurants, retail food establishments, and vending machines with 20 or more locations. The FDA proposal aims to promote healthy eating.

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Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, introduced the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act last week, which supporters say would reduce the FDA proposal that “would create rigid requirements that pose an unreasonable burden on many businesses, particularly convenience stores.”

Specifically, the bill would limit the menu-labeling provision to establishments that derive 50 percent or more revenue from food that is intended for immediate consumption and prepared and processed on-site. Pre-packaged food would not be included in the labeling requirement.

The American Pizza Community (APC), a coalition representing pizza-related businesses nationally, said the legislation would add flexibility and “reasonable solutions for small business pizza store owners nationwide.”

APC said, under the bill, pizza delivery stores and other restaurants that rely on orders that are primarily remotely placed, such as over the phone or online, could comply with the law using an online or other remote display of calorie counts.

The National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) said the bill would satisfy the objectives of Congress with burdening convenience stores.

Lyle Beckwith, NACS senior vice president of government relations, said the bill “treats restaurants like restaurants and convenience stores like convenience stores.”

Under the bill, retailers could select from several approaches in providing calorie information. For instance, pizza sellers could provide calories either per slice or for the whole pizza. The legislation aims to allow retailers more flexibility in providing calorie ranges as opposed to a specific number, which is often more difficult to define with made-to-order food, supporters said.

“Convenience stores and their food offerings vary greatly - even those that are part of the same chain - based largely on their location and customer base,” Beckwith said. “This legislation … sets realistic requirements for how businesses are classified under these regulations.”

Jennifer Hatcher, senior vice president of government and public affairs for the Food Marketing Institute, said 95 percent of food products at mainstream grocery stores already contain the calorie labels.

“The vast majority of foods in supermarkets are already labeled with complete nutrition facts information and many stores are voluntarily adopting more user-friendly guidance on the front of food packages, shelf-tags, and increasing the role of in-store dietitians,” Hatcher said. “Plus, grocery stores comply with country of origin labeling, allergen labeling, and ingredient labeling.”

The Senate bill comes after Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., and Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., introduced similar legislation (H.R. 1249) in March. That bill, with 50 co-sponsors was referred to the House Energy and Committee's Health Subcommittee.

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