WASHINGTON, June 10, 2015 – Among the many regulations the Obama administration is defending this year is a new rule requiring restaurants, supermarket delis and convenience stores to start disclosing calorie counts on menus and menu boards. The rule, released after last fall’s election, takes effect Dec. 1.
Pizza chains, including Domino’s, are joining the supermarket and convenience store operators in pushing an effort in Congress to force FDA to rewrite the rule. Many restaurant chains have already starting posting calorie counts and think it’s time for their competitors to get on board.
“We have spent the last year figuring out how to label our products to make nutritional information available to our consumers, and I feel all of us can do the same thing,” said Karen Raskopf, chief communications officer for Dunkin’ Brands Inc., which operates Dunkin’ Donuts as well as Baskin-Robbins. She said it would cost $400 to get each Baskin-Robbins shop in compliance, and $600 to $1,200 for each Dunkin’ Donuts outlet. The company has more than 7,000 restaurants across the country.
Raskopf’s comments came at a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on a bill (HR 2017) that would ease the disclosure requirements and penalties.
Among other things, the bill would ensure that Domino’s won’t have to post calorie counts in stores and could instead do it online, where it says far more of its customers order pizzas.
FDA was required to write the rule because of a provision that former Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, put in the Affordable Care Act in 2010. But the chairman of the subcommittee, Joe Pitts, R-Pa., says the rule “goes beyond” what the law intended and would result in a “dramatic increase in regulatory compliance costs.”
A subcommittee member, John Shimkus, R-Ill., questioned whether consumers really wanted the menu labeling information and called it the “perfect example of the nanny state.” “I don’t think I’ve ever looked for calorie numbers on anything I’ve consumed. I bet you I’m in the majority of Americans,” he said.
To that point, Raskopf responded that Millennials in particular are seeking out nutrition information, citing statistics for the Baskin-Robbins website. That prompted New Jersey Democrat Frank Pallone to suggest that it was an age issue. “Younger people pay a lot of attention, and maybe we should pay more attention, frankly,” he said.
While Dunkin’ sees no reason to delay, there’s bipartisan concern that FDA is moving too fast, especially since it has yet to issue industry guidance on compliance. Appropriators could easily delay implementation via a provision in the agency’s fiscal 2016 spending bill. Senate Agriculture Appropriations Chairman Jerry Moran, R-Kan., has said he’ll address the issue.
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