FDA Gives Restaurant Chains Another Year To List Calories On Menus

Bowing to industry pressure — or perhaps just a federal bureaucracy being a federal bureaucracy — the Food and Drug Administration yesterday extended the deadline for “certain restaurants and retail food establishments” to display calorie information until Dec. 1, 2016, which is a year later than planned when the regulations were announced last November.

“The rules will require 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,” reports the AP’s Mary Clare Jalonick. “That includes prepared foods at grocery and convenience stores and in movie theaters, bakeries, coffee shops, pizza delivery stores and amusement parks.”



The businesses affected lobbied for the extension both directly and through politicos. 

“The FDA said that since February, it has received numerous requests for a postponement, including from groups such as the Food Marketing Institute, the National Association of Theater Owners, the American Beverage Association and Publix Super Markets,” Brady Dennis reports in the Washington Post.

“We’re encouraged that FDA’s commitment will give us more time to at least garner some clarity and answers without feeling rushed to make difficult business decisions in an attempt to comply by December 1, 2015, with regulations that are unclear,” says Food Marketing Institute president and CEO Leslie G. Sarasin in a statement. 

“We never expected such an enormous exposure to the labeling requirement,” Jennifer Hatcher, head of government relations for the FMI, tells the Wall Street Journal’s Annie Gasparro. “Every item on the salad bar, every slice of cake — all of our grocery stores have at least 100 items that would have to be labeled.” 

The FDA will issue a draft guidance in August, Gasparro reports, and “will work flexibly and collaboratively with individual companies making a good-faith effort to comply with the law,” according to Michael Taylor, its deputy commissioner for foods.

“The delay may be more about bureaucracy than industry influence,” writes Sabrina Tavernise for the New York Times, saying that even “many who supported the rule” rued the agency’s lack of issuing guidance in a timely manner. 

“The agency said industry officials cited the need to develop software and other systems to help create accurate nutrition labeling, as well as the time and effort involved in installing menu boards and training staff about the new requirements,” writes the Washington Post’s Dennis. “This spring, dozens of lawmakers, including some staunch supports of menu labeling, urged the agency to push back enforcement of the new regulations.” 

Some consumer advocates were having none of it, however.

“This is a huge victory for the restaurant lobbyists,” NYU professor and Food Politics author Marion Nestle tells Tavernise. “Food companies must be hoping that if they can delay menu labeling long enough, it will just go away.”

U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who authored the provision in the Affordable Care Act that requires the calorie information, says in a statement: “Enough is enough. Industry is doing everything they can to stonewall implementation of this important public health tool.” 

Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, has been advocating for the labels for 10 years and says the information can't come too soon. 

“A typical entrée at a sit-down chain restaurant has a half day's worth of calories,” Wootan tellsUSA Today’s Liz Szabo. “If you add a beverage and side dish, you could easily end up eating over a day's worth of calories in one meal without feeling like you've overeaten.”

But she also feels that “the extension is fair,” in the absence of the FDA guidances. “There was simply no way that restaurants could comply in time,” Szabo writes.

In other news, the FDA said it is strengthening an existing warning in prescription drug labels and over-the-counter (OTC) Drug Facts labels to indicate that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) — which include ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) and naproxen (Aleve) — can increase the chance of a heart attack or stroke, either of which can lead to death.

“The distinction was subtle: The labels already say such drugs ‘may cause’ increased risk of heart attack and stroke,” points out Tavernise in another piece for the New York Times. “But the agency said that new data from a recent analysis provided stronger evidence of the increased risk of heart failure from such drugs.”

OTC NSAIDs are used to temporarily reduce fever and to treat minor aches and pains such as toothaches, backaches, muscular aches, tendonitis, strains, sprains, menstrual cramps and plain old headaches. Presumably, there are fewer of the latter this morning in the C suites of "Fast Food Nation."

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