House passes bill to roll back menu labeling provisions

Pizza establishments and deli counters benefit most from changes that require information to be listed online, not in store.

On Friday, the House passed a bill that provides flexibility in how restaurants provide nutritional information required by law. The Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act of 2015 (H.R. 2017) passed with a vote of 266-144-1. It now moves on to the Senate for consideration.

Bill sponsor Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R., Wash.) said the bill makes it easier for customers to actually see and understand the information because it’s displayed where customers actually place orders, including by phone, online or through mobile apps.

In 2010, Congress required that calorie information must be listed on menus and menu boards in certain chain restaurants and similar retail food establishments with 20 or more locations and on certain vending machines. In 2014, the Food & Drug Administration finalized rules implementing the statutory menu labeling and vending machine labeling requirements.

As FDA looks to fully implement its new menu labeling provisions, it is asking restaurants to put on paper and on display in the restaurant all of the variations of every menu item and their calorie counts. FDA’s menu labeling law takes effect Dec. 1, 2016.

The “made-to-order” portion of the food industry offers endless, constantly changing combinations of ingredients. For some sandwich shops and pizzerias, the possible variations are in the tens of millions, McMorris Rodgers said.

“The best ideas come from the people in towns big and small, where families, business owners and community leaders come together to find commonsense solutions," she said. "Across the country, the American people are frustrated because they’ve been limited by the top-down, government-knows-best approach that we see over and over again. That frustration extends all the way to our local deli counters, grocery stores and convenience markets, whose owners are being told what to do by the FDA in the form of an unworkable, 400-page menu labeling bill. It’s just another example of a federal agency disconnected from its mission.”

The White House issued a veto threat on the bill, saying it would create unnecessary delays in the implementation of menu labeling. “H.R. 2017 would undercut the objective of providing clear, consistent calorie information to consumers. If enacted, it would reduce consumers' access to nutrition information and likely create consumer confusion by introducing a great deal of variability into how calories are declared,” the White House Statement of Administration Policy noted.

The Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act was introduced last year by McMorris Rodgers. The bill has bipartisan support, having passed out of the Energy and Commerce Committee in November with a vote of 36 – 12 – 1.

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