A new regulation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will require any restaurant or food retailer with 20 locations or more to post calorie information on its menus, reports NPR. The regulation will apply not only to sit-down or fast-food restaurant chains, but to convenience stores, pizza parlors and movie theaters.
The new labeling was approved in an effort to combat the nation’s obesity epidemic by giving consumers information on dietary choices. According to FDA Commissioner, Margaret A. Hamburg, roughly one-third of the calories Americans consume are away from home, and people expect concise information about the food they eat. Hamburg says that the effectiveness of the labeling will become clearer with time, but that labeling can influence diet, health and behavior, and that the initiative’s main purpose is to provide families with the necessary information to make the best possible food choices.
Margo Watton , director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, who has fought for calorie labeling for a decade, says the new regulations are some of the most important public health policies ever passed. According to Watton, 50 cents of every dollar spent on food in the U.S. is now spent on food prepared away from home. In light of the new American food trend, the FDA needed new regulations to cover everything from fast-food restaurants to vending machines, says Watton.
Not everyone is thrilled with the new labeling, however. Director of government relations at the Food Marketing Institute, Rob Rosado, says the calorie counting will do little more than harm consumers. According to Rosado, 95 percent of grocery store food is already labeled with nutrition information in accordance with a 1990 law requiring the labels on all packaged food. Rosado says little of what is sold in grocery stores is prepared, and labeling requirements will likely result in fewer freshly-prepared foods being sold, since the cost and headache of research and labeling could make grocery stores think twice about selling prepared food at all. Rosado says the labeling for bakeries and delis in grocery stores could cost hundreds of millions of dollars and claims the labels will only penalize fresh food.
The FDA has had to create a number of exemptions to cover the diverse swath of businesses the new rules will apply to. Pizza restaurants, which had argued that it would be ridiculous to provide calorie counts for such a wide variety of toppings, will be allowed to post broad calorie information, without having to provide labeling for individual pies. According to The Washington Post, smaller restaurants with fewer than 19 locations will not have to label food and only regular menu items and certain alcoholic beverages will be labeled. Seasonal and special menu items and mixed drinks at restaurants, food trucks and food served on airplanes will be exempt.
The new regulations will go into effect in about a year, and could change in that time with challenges from various sectors of the food industry, reports The New York Times. Menu labeling first came into law in 2010 with the Affordable Care Act, but opposition from movie theaters and pizza chains delayed the final rules from coming into effect. The FDA had drafted a proposal of the regulations as early as 2011, but it was not until three years and a number of exemptions later that a set of rules was finally passed.
By Sree Aatmaa Khalsa