(by Mary Clare Jalonick, YahooNews) WASHINGTON (AP) — Diners will soon know how many calories are in that bacon cheeseburger at a chain restaurant, the pasta salad in the supermarket salad bar and even that buttery tub of popcorn at the movie theater.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced long-delayed calorie labeling rules Tuesday, requiring establishments that sell prepared foods and have 20 or more locations to post the calorie content of food and beverages “clearly and conspicuously” on their menus, menu boards and displays. Companies have until a year from now to comply. [The FDA has been working on the rules since 2010, when the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) required labels on restaurant food.]
“Americans eat and drink about one-third of their calories away from home, and people today expect clear information about the products they consume,” FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said.
WHERE YOU’LL SEE THE LABELS
Calorie content will appear on menus and menu boards in chain restaurants, bakeries, coffee shops, pizza delivery stores, movie theaters, convenience stores, amusement parks and any other locations that are part of a larger chain and serve prepared foods. They will also apply to some prepared foods in supermarkets and convenience stores.
The idea is that people may avoid that burger and fries if they add up the calories — and retailers may make their foods healthier to keep calorie counts down.
The menus and menu boards [must] tell diners that a 2,000-calorie diet is used as the basis for daily nutrition, noting that individual calorie needs may vary. Additional nutritional information beyond calories, including sodium, fats, sugar and other items, must be available upon request.
WHY THE RULES WERE DELAYED
Calorie labeling became law as part of Obamacare (The Affordable Care Act) in early 2010, almost five years ago. Hamburg says writing the rules was challenging because of the need to navigate concerns of the varied establishments that sell food. Supermarkets, convenience stores and pizza deliverers lobbied hardest against the rules.
Restaurant chains went along with the rule as a way to dodge an uneven patchwork of local rules and pushed for the other establishments to be included.
GROCERY STORE CONFUSION
Representatives of supermarkets have said the rules could cover thousands of items in each store, far more than restaurants. To address that, FDA excluded prepared foods that are typically intended for more than one person to eat and require more preparation, like deli meats, cheeses or bulk deli salads. But a sandwich sold in a grocery store would have to have a calorie label.
In some cases foods will have to be labeled in one part of the store but not in another. Cut fruit would be labeled in a salad bar, for example, but not in a container for sale, because that is generally meant to take home and eat over a period of time. The FDA says the idea is to label calories of foods that are meant to be eaten at the store or as takeout, rather than for further preparation at home.
Leslie G. Sarasin, president and CEO of the Food Marketing Institute, said the group is extremely disappointed in the rules, which she said will affect stores’ offerings of “fresh, minimally processed, locally produced items” such as cut cantaloupe, mixed salads or steamed seafood.
One surprise in the final rules is that alcoholic drinks will have to be labeled if they are listed on menus. Alcohol had been exempted in rules proposed three years ago.
Nutrition advocates say customers often don’t realize how many calories they are drinking when they order beverages like margaritas… Drinks ordered at the bar won’t have to be labeled if they aren’t on a menu.
WILL IT WORK?
New York City was first in the country to put a calorie-posting law in place, and other cities and states have followed. McDonald’s and other restaurant chains already put calorie labels on menus and menu boards. The labels are popular with many, but it’s too soon to know whether they’ll affect obesity rates.
A recent Agriculture Department study found the diets of people who use nutritional information are markedly better than those who don’t, and healthy eaters had more interest in the labels. The USDA paper concluded that it “may be too optimistic” to expect that those who don’t use nutrition information will adopt healthier diets if exposed to it.
Even before the new rules were announced, some Republicans in Congress had expressed concern that they would be too burdensome.
Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican, introduced a bill in the Senate earlier this year that would narrow the scope of the labeling. He said in a statement Tuesday that the regulations could hurt job growth and impose unnecessary costs on some businesses. He said he would “continue to push back” on the rules.
From an Associated Press report at YahooNews. Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from The Associated Press and YahooNews. Visit the websites at ap .org and news.yahoo .com.
1. What is the FDA? Be specific.
2. Describe/list the new calorie regulations the FDA is implementing.
3. a) Define comply.
b) What businesses will have to comply with the new rules? Be specific.
4. a) Why is the FDA implementing these rules?
b) What is the purpose of the rules?
5. Do you think these new regulations will cause people to change their eating habits? Explain your answer.
6. People who aren’t overly opposed to the government requiring businesses to put calories on food items still express concern that the rules will place an undue burden on business owners.
a) What burden would these owners face?
b) Why might it be undue (more than is reasonable or necessary)?
7. Do you think it is possible that at some point the government would go a step further and, in the name of health, impose restrictions on what types of foods businesses are permitted to sell/serve, or what people can or can’t eat? (similar to NY City’s ban on the sale of large sugary drinks)
8. The purpose of the Affordable Care Act is to make health insurance affordable for all Americans. Do you support the idea of including the calorie content requirement in this law? (It’s the best way to get the job done, or – all laws have these types of additions, or – it is another example of government overreach…) Explain your answer.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA or USFDA) is an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, one of the U.S. federal executive departments.
From an NBC News report:
The restaurant industry welcomed the rules.
“We believe that the Food and Drug Administration has positively addressed the areas of greatest concern with the proposed regulations and is providing the industry with the ability to implement the law in a way that will most benefit consumers,” the National Restaurant Association said in a statement.
“With one uniform national menu labeling law in effect, the administration has moved to eliminate the myriad of state and local regulations that have been confusing to the public, challenging and ultimately costly to large corporations and small franchise owners alike,” Dunkin Donuts said in a separate statement.
Here’s what’s included:
Foods not covered include a loaf of bread or a pound of deli cheese.
The new rules also require vending machine operators to label their products.
“Even though some foods sold from vending machines already bear calorie information, this labeling is not always visible before purchase,” the FDA said. Only vendors with 20 or more machines are covered.
FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg noted that many state and local governments are setting their own labeling rules for restaurants, and he said the industry should welcome consistent national guidelines.
She admitted the rules will not be easy to enforce and agreed that it’s also not going to be easy to check and see if the labels are accurate.