California passes menu labeling law

by Eric Schroeder
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SACRAMENTO, CALIF. — California today became the first state to require nutritional menu labeling as Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed SB 1420.

The bill, put forth by Senator Alex Padilla, requires restaurant chains with more than 20 locations to post calorie information on their menus and indoor menu boards by Jan. 1, 2011. The bill also requires the chains to have in place by July 1, 2009, brochures containing either calorie content information or other nutritional information, such as grams of saturated fat, grams of carbohydrates and milligrams of sodium.

"This legislation will help Californians make more informed, healthier choices by making calorie information easily accessible at thousands of restaurants throughout our state," Mr. Schwarzenegger said. "By being the first state to provide this information to consumers, California is continuing to lead the nation with programs and policies that promote health and nutrition."

Mr. Schwarzenegger also signed SB 441, which requires each vendor who operates or maintains a vending machine on state property to satisfy the requirement that at least 35% of the food and at least one-third of the beverages offering in the vending machines meet accepted nutritional guidelines by Jan. 1, 2011.

The announcement of the new menu labeling law was met with mixed review by the National Restaurant Association.

"We support the legislation’s goal to replace a patchwork of inconsistent local ordinances," said Dawn Sweeney, president and chief executive officer of the N.R.A. "Yet, when different rules exist in other parts of the country, it makes it difficult for consumers to compare options. Consumers deserve a federal standard that provides access to the same nutrition information no matter where they are or where they live.

"We can help consumers make smart, healthy food choices by establishing a uniform, national standard that will offer a broad range of detailed nutrition information in chain restaurants, and flexibility for the restaurants to provide that information. In the past week, legislation has been introduced in both the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives to enact a nationwide uniform nutrition information standard, which is a positive step for both restaurants and consumers."

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