Advocates Call on Obama Administration to Strengthen Menu Labeling Rules
Proposal Undercuts Congressional Intent
Today over 80 national, state, and local health organizations and experts, including the American Heart Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, Center for Science in the Public Interest, American Public Health Association, and the National PTA, called on the Obama Administration to strengthen the final rules for calorie labeling on chain restaurant menus and vending machines. They charged that the Administration's proposed regulations do not comply with the labeling law that was passed as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in March 2010 and was championed by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT).
The groups voiced strong support for calorie labeling on menus at chain restaurants and on vending machines. Their letter points out that with American adults and children consuming about one-third of their calories from eating out, menu and vending labeling will provide important tools to enable people to make informed food choices and spur industry to cut calorie levels in their offerings. (CSPI also filed more detailed comments on both menu and vendinglabeling.)
However, the advocates had three major objections and vigorously urged the Administration:
• to adhere to the definition of restaurants and similar retail food establishments in the draft menu labeling guidance that the FDA issued last summer and not exempt labeling for foods sold in movie theaters, casinos, bowling alleys, stadiums, hotels, airlines, and cafes and delis in superstores.
• not to exempt alcoholic beverages from labeling. Congress required calorie labeling for all items on the menu and did not exclude those beverages. Alcoholic drinks are the fifth-largest source of calories in American adults' diets, and the calorie content of alcoholic beverages can vary widely. Without labeling, a person would not know that at TGI Fridays the Fresh Mango Lemonade Shaker (410 calories) has twice the calories of the Lemon Twist Martini (200 calories).
• not to allow companies to post the calories for vending machine items on a sign next to the machine. The Affordable Care Act requires that companies "provide a sign listing the calories in close proximity to each article of food or the selection button" (emphasis added). The Administration also ignored congressional intent in proposing to exempt bulk vending machines, which usually dispense candy or other junk food and make up 20 percent of vending machines.
"It's disappointing that the Administration would weaken the labeling proposals from what Congress required," charged Margo G. Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "You'd think, given the Administration's strong commitment to addressing childhood obesity, that it would try to provide nutrition information for as many foods in as many venues as Congress required.
"Many of the foods sold in the venues that the Administration has proposed exempting are similar to foods that will be labeled in restaurants," said Wootan. "In addition to restaurants, Congress required menu labeling at ‘similar retail food establishments,’ which sell the same types of prepared foods as restaurants. The proposed rule is unfair to traditional restaurants and would significantly reduce the number of venues providing calorie labeling to their customers."
The Administration has pledged to finalize the menu and vending labeling rules by the end of the year. The menu labeling rules are expected to go into effect in mid-2012 and the vending rules by the end of 2012.
Contact Jeff Cronin (jcronin[at]cspinet.org) or Ariana Stone (astone[at]cspinet.org).