original source: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/25/us/fda-to-announce-sweeping-calorie-rules-for-restaurants.html?_r=2
WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administration announced sweeping rules on Tuesday that will require chain restaurants, movie theaters and pizza parlors across the country to post calorie counts on their menus. Health experts said the new requirements would help combat the country’s obesity epidemic by showing Americans just how many calories lurk in their favorite foods.
The rules will have broad implications for public health. As much as a third of the calories that Americans consume come from outside the home, and many health experts believe that increasingly large portion sizes and unhealthy ingredients have been significant contributors to obesity in the United States.
“This is one of the most important public health nutrition policies ever to be passed nationally,” said Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “Right now, you are totally guessing at what you are getting. This rule will change that.”
The rules are far broader than consumer health advocates had expected, covering food in vending machines and amusement parks, as well as certain prepared foods in supermarkets. They apply to food establishments with 20 or more outlets, including fast-food chains like KFC and Subway and sit-down restaurants like Applebee’s and The Cheesecake Factory.
Perhaps the most surprising element of the new rules was the inclusion of alcoholic beverages, which had not been part of an earlier proposal. Beverages served in food establishments that are on menus and menu boards will be included, but a mixed drink at a bar will not, F.D.A. officials said.
“It’s much tougher than the original,” said Marion Nestle, a professor in the department of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University. “I’m amazed. It never occurred to me that alcohol would make it in.”
The new rules will take effect a year from now, and seem likely to face legal and political challenges from some parts of the food industry, including grocery and convenience stores that sell prepared foods for takeout.
Menu labeling became law in 2010 as part of the Affordable Care Act, and the F.D.A. issued a proposal for how it should be put into effect the following year. But the final rules were delayed for three years, in part because of fierce opposition from pizza and movie theater chains.
The release of the rules just weeks after the midterm elections prompted some advocates to suggest that politics might help explain the rules’ timing and toughness. The administration backed away from covering movie theaters in 2011, the year before the last presidential election, when the Obama administration was keen to avoid giving Republicans ammunition for the charge that it was too quick to impose unnecessary and costly regulations.
The rules apply to prepared foods sold in groceries and convenience stores that are intended to feed one person, such as a sandwich or a salad, but not to items like loaves of bread or a rotisserie chicken.
The rules were published in the Federal Register, a government journal, on Tuesday morning, and companies and advocates began poring over their details.
Trade associations like the National Automatic Merchandising Association, which represents vending machine operators, said they could not comment on the new rules without seeing them. The National Grocers Association said: “Grocery stores are not chain restaurants, which is why Congress did not initially include them in the law. We are disappointed that the F.D.A.’s final rules will capture grocery stores, and impose such a large and costly regulatory burden on our members.”
Daren Bakst, a research fellow in agricultural policy at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said the rule amounted to “a shocking power grab that ignored the plain language of the law.” He said the F.D.A. interpreted the law too broadly, arguing that it was supposed to apply only to restaurants and similar establishments.
“If Congress wanted to cover any establishment that sells prepared foods, they would have said that,” he said. “No reasonable person is about to confuse a grocery store, convenience store or movie theater with a restaurant.”
But Senator Tom Harkin, a Democrat from Iowa who helped create the labeling requirement in the law, said in a statement on Tuesday morning that the rule “closely mirrors congressional intent.”
He added: “This rule is consistent with our bipartisan agreement and will help to protect and strengthen access to healthy, nutritious foods for families around the country.”
Both the House and the Senate have bills pending that would ease the requirements of the new rules for some places selling meals, and their sponsors have vowed to fight on. “The Obama administration’s one-size-fits-all approach will hurt job growth and impose unnecessary costs for many businesses that are already providing nutritional information for the majority of foods they sell,” said Senator Roy Blunt, a Republican from Missouri who is one of the sponsors of the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act.
New York became a kind of natural experiment when it began requiring chain restaurants to post calorie counts on menus in 2006. Many other cities, counties and states followed with their own rules, prompting the National Restaurant Association to throw its lot in with the consumer health advocates in an attempt to get a federal standard instead of contending with a patchwork. According to Ms. Wootan, about 18 states and cities have menu-labeling regulations in effect.
Advocates praised the rules as a strong public education tool, but whether menu labeling has any effect on obesity and health is still an open question. Some studies have shown no effect, while others found one. A 2008 study of 100 million cash register transactions at Starbucks found a 6 percent decrease in average calories purchased after calorie posting.
“You’ll need more time out there in the real world with this to see if it works,” said Kelly Brownell, a professor of public policy at Duke University.
Dawn Sweeney, the National Restaurant Association’s chief executive, said it had joined forces with more than 70 public health groups to “advocate for a federal nutrition standard so that anyone dining out can have clear, easy-to-use nutrition information at the point of ordering — information that is presented in the same way, no matter what part of the country.”
A handful of restaurants, most prominently Panera, McDonald’s and Au Bon Pain, already list calorie counts on their menu boards nationally. But segments of the food industry have continued to fight the regulations. The big pizza chains, for example, wanted the right to determine a serving size of pizza themselves and to list calories by the slice — and they got it.
Determining the rules on calorie counts for pizza was apparently one of the thorniest issues the F.D.A. faced. Advocates worried that if pizza restaurants were allowed to provide calories per slice, they would divide pizzas into more slices, and pizza companies stewed over how they could calculate calories for a food that is often customized by consumers.
Vending machine owners lobbied to be excluded from the regulations, as did the convenience and grocery store associations. The F.D.A. is giving vending machine owners an extra year to comply with the labeling regulations. The agency is requiring that vending machine operators provide calorie counts on stickers or placards near the specific food being sold or the selection button for it.
The world’s largest convenience store chain, 7-Eleven, found itself in the middle of two competing trade groups. It belongs to the National Restaurant Association, which praised the new rules, and to the National Association of Convenience Stores, which has promised to challenge them.
The company, which has worked hard over the last several years to make more foods offering better nutrition available to its customers, decided to side with its restaurant brethren. “While these regulations will add a lot of complexity at our stores, we believe our customers want to know the information menu-labeling provides, and we will comply,” 7-Eleven said in a statement on Tuesday.