DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA — Consumers hoping to find out how many calories that hamburger or taco holds will have to wait until May 7, 2018, now that the Food and Drug Administration has delayed the implementation of its proposed Menu Labeling Rule.
Originally passed as part of the health care overhaul in 2010, the law, which would have gone into effect Friday, requires restaurants and other establishments that sell prepared foods and have 20 or more locations to post the calorie content of food “clearly and conspicuously” on their menus, menu boards and displays.
The idea behind the menu labeling law is that people may pass on that bacon double cheeseburger at a chain restaurant, hot dog at a gas station or large popcorn at the movie theater if they know that it has hundreds of calories.
But grocery stores and convenience stores have said the rules would be more burdensome for them than they would be for restaurants, which typically have more limited offerings and a central ordering point. The majority of prepared foods in grocery stores will have to be labeled — from the salad bar to the hot food bar to cookies in the bakery.
Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, M.D., issued the following statement on the FDA’s decision to delay implementing the rule:
The FDA has made the right decision to delay a rule that would have essentially dictated how every food service establishment in America with more than 20 locations — restaurants, grocery stores, movie theaters, and more — writes and displays their menus.
HHS believes strongly in promoting sound nutrition through public health efforts. Tackling childhood obesity is one of our top three stated clinical priorities. We should do this by helping families gain the information they need to make their own choices. Imposing burdensome rules that leave business managers and owners worried about harsh potential penalties and less able to serve their customers is unwise and unhelpful.
Under President Trump, our department will focus on promoting public health in ways that work for American consumers. Toward that end, the FDA is asking for feedback about how to make the Menu Labeling Rule more flexible and less burdensome while still providing useful information to consumers. We look forward to working with all involved to find the right balance.
Nutrition advocates who worked closely with former President Barack Obama’s administration say the rules should go forward. Margo Wootan, a lobbyist at the Center for Science and the Public Interest who helped negotiate the original legislation with the restaurant industry, says the rules are important because people get a third of their calories from eating out and restaurant portions tend to be larger.
“Congress and the Trump administration should listen to the millions of Americans who want to make informed choices when eating out rather than the whining of a few special interests,” Wootan said.
The FDA’s decision to delay the Menu Labeling Rule is the latest of many. The FDA took more than four years to write the rules, and establishments originally had until the end of 2015 to comply. That was pushed to 2016 and then to May 2017.
Associated Press Writer MARY CLARE JALONICK contributed to this report. Additional content provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.