Monday, November 3, 2008

Nashville Revises its Proposed Menu Board Law, Rockland County's Law Similar to NYC's Menu Board Law

In Nashville, where over half of adults are overwieght or obese, the health department has revised its original proposal from its first information session. While restaurants would still be required to print the calorie counts of menu items—health department officials made the following modifications to the proposed rules:

1. Restaurants with 15 or more stores must print calorie counts on their menus. This number was raised from 10 in the earlier draft.

2. Regulations would extend to retail grocery establishments with in-house dining, such as Whole Foods.

3. Restaurants would have until the end of 2009 to comply with the regulations.

4. The following language was added in an attempt to allay fears of potential lawsuits: “This regulation is not intended to provide or be used to support a private cause of action by any individual, other than an individual, entity, or agency authorized to enforce this regulation, against a covered food service establishment for compliance or non-compliance with this regulation. This regulation does not prohibit a covered food service establishment from including a statement on a menu or menu board that there may be variations in calorie content values across actual servings based on slight variations in serving size, quantity of ingredients, or special ordering."

The Metro Board of Health will consider the regulations, which are intended to help fight the rising trend of obesity, at the Dec. 4 meeting. Written comments will be accepted until Nov. 13.

At issue is still whether Nashville's law would apply to public schools. If so, it would be the toughest law in the country. Also, Nashville's legal disclaimer may be a mechanism to smooth approval by industry groups (though industry opposes any requirement that calorie counts be posted on menu boards, and prefers the option to hide information in menu supplements or other signage). Read more about Nashville.

The Journal-News reports today (on its front page - Rockland Edition) that Rockland is entering the national dialog about posting calories on fast food restaurant menu boards and chain restaurant menus. A new local law would mandate calorie disclosures a la NYC. Voices from business weigh in on the financial burdens and the so-called "nanny state" -- these are industry's talking points. There is no schedule set yet for public comment.

Recognizing that one in four British adults is overweight or obeste, the Minister of Department of Health and the Food Standards Agency has called for calorie content on all chain restaurant menus. Read more.

It is time in America for consumer protection laws to be written by consumer protection groups, not by the industries that cause the problems in the first place. Foxes should not guard henhouses. Those following my earlier posts know that an industry coalition has been formed to pass the LEAN Act, a federal statute that would trump all state and local laws and permit fast food joints and chain restaurants to hide calorie information in menu supplements or on signage near menu boards.

Consumer protection friendly legislation called the MEAL Act is also pending in Congress that would permit state and local laws to retain their status, and that would mandate that calorie information appear where consumers are most likely to see it - on the menu board by the prices, and on menus by the item description and price.

Until federal laws are passed, support state and local initiatives require calories be posted where they will be seen. Stand up to local, state and national industry associations and lobbies, and tell your Congressman or Senator that you support the MEAL Act. Ask them to co-sponsor the law and reject industry efforts to water it down.

Speak truth to power!

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