By Colin Schwartz, Nutrition Policy Associate, Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI)
On Friday, Aug. 25, Food and Drug Commissioner Scott Gottlieb made it clear that calorie labels on menus are here to stay for all Americans. As Politico put it, “In the era of President Donald Trump’s war on regulations, one Obama-era rule — menu labeling — appears to be surviving.”
Unfortunately, a bill (H.R. 772) is working its way through Congress that would gut these menu labeling requirements, and undo recent progress toward giving Californians the information they need to make healthy choices about what to eat and what to feed their families. Now that the Trump Administration has affirmed it won’t delay menu labeling any further, it’s time for Congress to abandon this misguided effort. We are asking Rep. Jerry McNerney, who represents portions of Eastern Contra Costa County in the House of Representatives, to take a strong stand for informed consumer choice by opposing H.R. 772.
California’s adult and childhood obesity rates have steadily increased every decade since 1990, despite having the fifth lowest adult obesity rate in our nation. The rate also varies by community – currently, 77 percent of Latino adults are obese or overweight. California’s Department of Health Care Services has recognized that despite California’s best efforts, “obesity is clearly a significant driver of health problems and healthcare costs.”
Every Californian should have the information they want and need to choose healthy food for their families. Unfortunately, Congress is intent on curbing the freedom of consumers by denying them basic information about what they are ordering in restaurants. They also seem set on undoing California’s progress by scuttling the menu labeling law through the so-called Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act (H.R. 772). – Please see the comparison chart by the CSPI below. This bill ignores the reality that our nation’s top 50 restaurant chains have already committed to empowering consumers by including calorie counts at their locations across the country. Additionally, an independent economic analysis already found that the FDA’s decision to delay the enactment of the rule by one-year could already cost consumers an astounding $15 for every $1 saved by industry. Now imagine the damage H.R. 772 could have on consumers and our economy if signed into law.
This bill is contrary to Californians’ preferences. California passed the first state menu labeling law in our nation in 2008 to support and protect consumer choice. Since the signing of the legislation, California-based chains from California Pizza Kitchen to Taco Bell have shown that menu labeling can be accomplished without sacrificing customer satisfaction.
As Adam Russell of Santa Cruz, CA wrote in response to the FDA delaying implementation of the final menu labeling rule: “People deserve to be able to make informed choices.”
We all must remain vigilant not just about congressional efforts, but the FDA’s final guidance on the menu labeling rule later this year to ensure that the consumer-choice spirit of the rule remains intact. Unfortunately, anti-consumer industry groups and some corporate interests are lobbying Congress hard and against public will to deny Americans choice on a host of critical nutrition issues, including this one. It will only get worse now that the FDA didn’t decide in their favor.
The bill is moving quickly. It has already passed out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee with Rep. McNerney voting in favor of it and is headed to the House floor (and possibly to the Senate) for a vote, possibly this or next week.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest has been providing advice and advocacy toward a healthier food system since its founding in 1971. They publish Nutrition Action Healthletter and NutritionAction.com and lead action across the country on nutrition, food safety, and health.