Bill would require chain restaurants to disclose calories of standard food items

by Jay Sjerven
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WASHINGTON — The Labeling Education and Nutrition Act (LEAN) of 2008 introduced in both houses of Congress the last week of September would require chain restaurants to disclose on menus or menu boards the number of calories in each standard food item they serve. Restaurants also would be required to provide on request additional written nutritional information on featured menu items.

The additional information would be the same as contained on nutrition labels of packaged foods and include calories from fat, total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, sugars, dietary fiber and protein. Restaurant industry associations support the legislation to ensure the nutrition information restaurants are required to provide is uniform across the country.

The Senate version of the LEAN Act (S. 3575) was introduced on Sept. 25 by Senator Tom Carper of Delaware and Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. An identical bill (H.R. 7187) was introduced in the House of Representatives on Sept. 27 by Representative Jim Matheson of Utah and was referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

The LEAN Act would require restaurants and grocery stores that serve prepared foods and have 20 or more locations disclose calories contained in each menu item directly on the menu, menu board or in designated alternative ways, such as a menu insert or a sign directly next to the menu board.

The act requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services promulgate proposed regulations to mandate nutrition labeling of food service establishment food no later than one year after enactment. No later than two years after enactment, the secretary would be required to promulgate final regulations to implement the legislation.

"As a former governor, I know there are issues that can and should be handled at the state and local levels, but healthy nutrition and obesity are national issues that cry out for a national solution, and our bipartisan legislation provides a platform to gather everyone to the table and begin that national discussion," Mr. Carper said. "This bill is not going to magically solve our obesity problems, but I do believe we have a responsibility to give Americans, more and more of whom are eating outside the home these days, the tools they need to make healthy, educated decisions."

Ms. Murkowski said, "Today, America is facing an obesity epidemic that must be addressed swiftly. It’s been nearly 20 years since the enactment of the Nutrition Labeling Education Act that requires all packaged foods to include nutrient information. However, there is not a comparable national standard for prepared foods. The LEAN Act will facilitate a national debate on the important issue of menu labeling and will raise a broader discussion on the importance of healthy lifestyle choices."

Dawn Sweeney, president and chief executive officer of the National Restaurant Association, said, "We are pleased to see the bipartisan work of Senators Tom Carper and Lisa Murkowski on this legislation and hope it will begin a constructive national dialogue on the availability of nutrition information. Consumers deserve access to the same nutrition information no matter where they are across the country. We support the legislation’s goal to replace a patchwork of inconsistent state and local ordinances with a national standard for chain restaurants that empowers consumers to make the choices that are best for them.

"The food service industry and lawmakers can best help patrons make smart food choices by working together to establish a uniform standard that will offer a broad range of detailed nutrition information in chain restaurants," Ms. Sweeney said. "The bill that Senator Carper and Senator Murkowski introduced is a positive step for consumers and restaurants."

Jack Whipple, president of the National Council of Chain Restaurants, agreed, saying, "This bill is a good starting point to give consumers information they want and need to make informed decisions in restaurants. The LEAN Act is a better approach than other alternatives and would create a universal, national standard for nutritional disclosure, which is strongly needed. It is very important any federal labeling legislation passed by Congress includes national uniformity and provides consumers with consistent, comprehensive nutrition information so they may make informed decisions about what they eat."

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Food Business News, October 14, 2008, starting on Page 34. Click here to search that archive.

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