Over the weekend Congress (barely) passed the Affordable Health Care for America Act, or H.R. 3962. And while much media attention went to the abortion clauses that were put in / taken out, there were also several food and nutrition related provisions added to the new legislation.
Section 2572 [NUTRITION LABELING OF STANDARD MENU ITEMS AT CHAIN RESTAURANTS AND OF ARTICLES OF FOOD SOLD FROM VENDING MACHINES] will require 2 things:
1. Any operator of 20 or more vending machines will now be required to label the calorie count for each of the items on sale:
the vending machine operator shall provide a sign in close proximity to each article of food or the selection button that includes a clear and conspicuous statement disclosing the number of calories contained in the article
This is great, because it will help people snack a bit more mindfully. Especially important is the labeling of soft drinks and juices. Consumers pick up a vitamin water and are sometimes surprised when they’re told it contains 8 teaspoons of sugar and 130 calories!
2. Restaurant chains with national presence of 20 or more locales will now have to post calorie information as well. The information has to appear on menus as well as on the menu board and drive in menu board where applicable.
There have been calorie labeling efforts in several cities and states across the country in the past 2 years, but now they’ll all come under a single roof.
While calories are a great start, they certainly don’t tell the whole story of a product, so the bill further states that upon request, customers shall also be informed about level of nutrients such as fat, sodium, and cholesterol.
That’s nice in theory, but you can just imagine a scene where Fred is standing in line at a busy BK, trying to decide whether to go for a cheeseburger or whopper, and asking the Jack the cashier for the saturated fat content of each. While Jack is scratching his head and calling the shift manager who vaguely remembers some brochure buried in the stock room, the line behind Fred gets longer and more restless….
The National Restaurant Association supports the new menu requirement, and with good reason. Better have one single rule, than have each state or municipality come up with its own requirements, as California did.
We would have liked to see more sweeping legislation connected to food and nutrition in this bill. After all, much of our health problems are directly related to poor eating habits. But this will have to wait for another time.
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