Monday, October 20, 2008

Comparison of Fast Food Labeling Bills - MEAL Act preferred to LEAN Act

Senators Carper and Murkowski recently introduced S.3575 to amend the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. The bill, cleverly called the LEAN Act (Labeling Education and Nutrition Act) purports to create a federal mandate of calorie and nutrition labeling for fast food outlets, but permits fast food and other chains to put that information somewhere other than the menu boards. In other words, it enables the chains to provide the information in a place other than where consumers would likely see it. Another goal of the legislation is to preempt state and local legislation like those in New York City and in California that mandate a stricter standard of disclosure.

An earlier bill, introduced by Senator Harkin (S.2784) called the Menu Education and Labeling Act (MEAL Act) would essentially require both fast food and table service restaurants to make disclosures similar to those of the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act. Fast food restaurants would have to make the disclosures on menu boards and table service restaurants on printed menus. The law would be similar to those in New York City and California.

The National Restaurant Association (read its talking points) favors the LEAN act because it imposes a unified federal standard. The LEAN act would permit fast food and other restaurants to hide calorie and nutritional information in places other than where consumers look to make choices, such as in signs near the menu board, in handouts or menu inserts, and elsewhere such as an appendix attached to the back of the menu, or in another menu that supplements the regular menu.

Harkin's MEAL Act is the better bill. It is more direct and more likely to accomplish its goals of disseminating meaningful calorie and nutrition information to consumers. The LEAN act is intended to protect restaurant owners, not consumers.

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