Menu-labeling passes Indiana House - make sure your voice is heard

The Indiana House Bill on menu-labeling passed with a vote of 51-46 this week. The bill will be assigned to a Senate committee before likely moving on to the Senate for a final vote.

HB 1207 would require chain restaurants with more than 20 units in Indiana to place calorie and carbohydrate data on menus or menu boards by July. These restaurants would also be required to make available to customers data on fat content, trans fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, fiber, protein and sugar.

Indiana is only the latest in a string of states pushing for menu-labeling legislation, including New York, California and Massachusetts.

While research does show that this information helps diners make healthier choices about what they eat, it does not take into consideration the significant costs these restaurant would incur in order to comply with the law.

If you assume an average menu board costs $300, an Indiana restaurant with only 20 units could be forced to spend as much as $6000; for a chain such as Taco Bell, which has hundreds of units across the state, that cost could soar into the tens of thousands.

In this already difficult time for restaurants, the National Restaurant Association is lobbying for a single, consistent, national nutrition labeling standard offering restaurants both the flexibility to provide nutritional data in a way that makes sense to its customers; and that also protects these restaurants from frivolous lawsuits.

According to the NRA, the Labeling Education and Nutrition (LEAN) Act would expand current packaged food labeling law to require a uniform national nutrition labeling standard for chain foodservice establishments, while providing a reasonable range of flexibility for the restaurant. While the LEAN Act would require a uniform national nutrition standard, the law also would provide for a single set of guidelines in how nutrition information is calculated and will provide legal protection for those restaurants that abide by the law.

Find out what your state is doing with nutrition labeling legislation; and write your local representatives and tell them how you feel.

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Tags: 1207, Act, HB, Indiana, LEAN, federal, labeling, law, menu, nutrition

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Comment by Steve Paterson on March 2, 2009 at 4:56pm
I also think that any chain which makes everything to order from scratch will have a hard time complying.
A little extra seasoning on a steak and the sodium content is off.
One end of a striploin has more fat than the other.
A wrong size ladel in the blue cheese dressing and you have 4oz instead of 3oz.

I also feel that people 'SAY' they want healthier offerings on menus but when they actually go out to eat, what they 'say' and what they 'do' are two different things.

In these struggling times, any additional expense can be the end and I seriously doubt this will accomplish anything for obese people anyway. Sorry, but I just can't see an obese person really caring about the nutritional information. I could be wrong.
Comment by Deb Scott on March 2, 2009 at 2:04pm
John, the bill in Indiana does not provide any protection to the restaurant if there is an error in calculation - do you believe that is okay? I don't! The food is made by humans, distributors substitute product - mistakes happen. There is already a suit against Applebee's.

If Indiana has one law, and every other state, city, jurisdiction has another law, then thinking it's not a hardship on the chains is the overstatement. That's why restaurants have supported the LEAN Act - to have one set of regulations.

Some people think all restaurants should provide the information thinking that nutritional analysis software is readily available, but the software is general in nature. The burden is great for true nutritional analysis which is typically done in labs. It could limit innovation by small restaurants that would have to have everything analyzed.
Comment by John Dumbrille on March 2, 2009 at 10:23am
Marie, we're all on the side of operators on this board, it goes without saying. The last time I checked, the NRN came on the side of the bill - their stated reason is because of the obesity epidemic - which should give us pause.
Companies have to remake boards from time to time anyway; the law is phased in over a few years, so the additional cost may be overstated. Timelines may be debated, but I believe that the industry needs to embrace menu content and source disclosure. The time of the 1400 calorie hamburger or 700 calorie salad with dressing that we people assume is 'light' should be put behind us.

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