Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Westchester County Passes Menu Board Calorie Disclosure Law

After a year of deliberations between legislators and public health officials, and over the objections of restaurant owners and associations, Westchester County, NY passed a bill requiring chain restaurants and fast food outlets to post calories on their menu boards and menus. Restaurants with 15 or more locations globally (regardless of ownership) will have to comply with the law after a six-month grace period. After that, the County will impose fines for non-compliance. The bill passed 15-1.

Westchester joins NYC, CA, Portland, Seattle and Philadelphia in passing menu boad disclosure laws. Proposals are still pending in DC and Nashville, and new proposals are just being introduced in Rockland County, NY.

This issue is being closely monitored by this blog and others as pending federal legislation, if passed, would make state and local menu board disclosure laws null and void. The LEAN Act, favored by industry both would preempt state and local laws and permit chain restaurants and fast food outlets to post calorie counts in places other than on menus and menu boards. The LEAN Act would allow restaurants to post calorie counts on menu supplements, or on signs other than the actual menu board. This industry-drafted legislation is opposed by most consumer advocacy groups.

The MEAL Act, also pending in Congress would be more akin to NYC's menu board law and require restaurants to post calorie counts directly on menu boards and menus. It also would preserve local laws that are broader than the federal law.

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