WASHINGTON, Nov. 4, 2015 - Supermarkets, convenience stores and pizza chains are mounting a new effort to get some relief from the FDA’s new menu labeling regulations. But they are no longer seeking an exemption from the rules. Instead, they’re hoping Congress will give them some flexibility on how they report calorie counts, plus some protection from penalties and lawsuits.

Under an amended bill that’s starting to move through the House, supermarket delis and convenience stores wouldn’t have to label every product. Instead they could post calorie counts on menu boards. The bill (HR 2017) also would limit the labeling requirement to products that are sold at 20 or more locations.

Pizza delivery chains would be allowed to post calorie counts only on their websites instead of in stores as well. Also under the bill, stores and restaurants would get protection from class-action lawsuits and would be allowed up to 90 days to correct violations.

A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee was scheduled to vote on the amended bill Wednesday. Sens. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Angus King, I-Maine, introduced a companion bill (S 2217) last week.

The FDA, which originally planned to start enforcing the regulations next month, has pushed the compliance deadline to December 2016. But supermarkets, convenience stores and pizza chains say that delay isn’t enough. 

“Theyve not either understood or not been able to address the concerns that weve brought forward to them time and time again,” said Rob Rosado, director of government relations for the Food Marketing Institute.

It’s possible the menu labeling regulations could be targeted through the fiscal 2016 omnibus spending bill that Congress needs to pass by Dec. 11. The chairman of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., tells Agri-Pulse he’d like to use the bill to block the rule. “I would like for us to just put a hold on that,” he said.

Supporters of the menu labeling requirement have managed to fight off attempts to kill or loosen it for several years. But Margo Wootan, nutrition policy director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a research and advocacy group, fears it could be in trouble now that its original champion, former Sen. Tom Harkin, has retired.

“Its shameful that Congress fails to recognize that theres an obesity epidemic in this country.  Rather than taking steps to reduce obesity, they keep trying to roll back the few policies that will help to address it,” she said.


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