Professor: 'Congratulations to the FDA for putting public health first'

Menu labeling rules: A quick guide, plus industry reaction

By Elaine Watson contact

- Last updated on GMT

Menu labeling rules: A quick guide, plus industry reaction

Related tags: Grocery stores, Nutrition, Fda

The FDA released its much-anticipated final rules on calorie information on menus and vending machines today as part of the Affordable Care Act.

They will cover foods, beverages and some alcoholic drinks served at chain restaurants, grocery stores, vending machines, takeaway pizza outlets, amusement parks, and movie theaters with 20+ outlets, and come into force in a year’s time.

They will not cover foods from grocery stores or delis that are typically intended for more than one person to eat and require additional preparation before consuming, such as pounds of deli meats and cheeses and large-size deli salads.

Aside from calorie information, the menu labeling final rule also requires covered establishments to provide, upon request, written information about total calories, total fat, calories from fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, fiber, sugars and protein.

The reaction:

The reaction has been predictably mixed, with the thumbs up from the National Restaurant Association and public health groups, but frustration from food retail associations with the FDA’s broad definition of “similar retail establishments​” aside from restaurant chains with 20+ outlets that must comply with the new rules.

The National Grocers Association:​ NGA president and CEO Peter J. Larkin is not pleased: "The scope of the nutrition labeling provision as proposed by Congress was to provide a uniform standard for chain restaurant menu labeling, not grocery stores. Grocery stores are not chain restaurants, which is why Congress did not initially include them in the law. We are disappointed that the FDA's final rules will capture grocery stores, and impose such a large and costly regulatory burden on our members. NGA will continue to work with Congress to pass bipartisan legislation to address this regulatory overreach."​

The Food Marketing Institute: ​The FMI is also “extremely disappointed​” that FDA rules cover grocery stores, which it argues “should not be pulled into a menu labeling law and regulation designed for a different industry”.

The National Association of Convenience Stores:​ NACS is also unhappy, and says the FDA has “clearly gone beyond congressional intent by expanding the types of businesses that fall under this law to include convenience stores…” ​It adds:”It is now up to the bipartisan, bicameral opponents of this regulatory overreach to enact legislation introduced in both houses of Congress that reasonably defines a restaurant as a business that derives at least 50% of revenue from prepared food.”

Dr Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University: ​But not everyone is upset. Dr Nestle notes that while others are disappointed,​ “I’m not. Calorie labeling is an excellent tool for public education… Congratulations to the FDA for putting public health first.”

Center for Science in the Public Interest: ​The CSPI’s nutrition policy director Margo Wootan agrees: "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​.”

However, she is not happy with the final rule on vending: “The law clearly spells out that calorie counts for vended items be in close proximity to each item or its selection button. The final regulations merely require a poster with calorie information somewhere near vending machines. To ensure that people have visible, useful calorie information for vended options, CSPI is considering a lawsuit against the FDA to bring that provision in line with the statute.”

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics​: AND strongly supports the rules: “Menu labeling is an important step forward in helping address our obesity epidemic. These initiatives are supported by legitimate research, but to be truly effective must include nutrition education and policy evaluation, and ensure calorie counts are accurate. Context and education are critical to making menu labeling a meaningful tool for consumers.”

So will they work?

So far, the evidence that calorie labeling positively changes behavior has been mixed, says the NPD Group: “Consumers who are calorie or health conscious will take note and order accordingly, and those who are not will order what they want regardless of the calories.”

To read the new rules, click HERE​.    

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