California Assembly Passes Menu Labeling Legislation

The California Assembly has passed legislation that will require chain outlets with 15 or more locations to place calorie info on fast food menu boards and nutrition information on restaurant menus. The rule applies only to standard menu items and not to daily specials or custom orders.

The legislation is similar to controversial regulations in New York City and King County, Washington, but if Governor Schwarzenegger signs this bill, California will be the first state to make nutrition information on menu boards a requirement.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest is happy about the bill:

“Without nutrition information at the point of decision-making in chain restaurants, it’s hard for people to make informed choices for themselves and their children,” said Margo G. Wootan, director of nutrition policy at CSPI. “Who would expect that some coffee drinks at Starbucks have more calories than a Big Mac, or that a tuna salad sub from Subway has more calories than a roast beef sub?”

It’s a good question, Margo. Until the CSPI made a mock-up of the Starbucks menu board, we really had no idea that a Venti Vanilla Bean Frappucino had 600 calories. A Big Mac has 540.

California Legislature Passes Historic Menu Labeling Bill [CSPI]
(Photo:CSPI)

PREVIOUSLY: Seattle To Require Calorie Labeling At Chain Restaurants, Cut Trans Fat
Subway Is Not Ashamed: First Fast Food Restaurant To Put Calorie Info On Menus
NYC Restaurant Group Sues Over Nutritional Info Regulation

Comments

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  1. skrom says:

    Another stupid nanny state law. If someone truly wants to know how many calories are in a big mac they can ask for a nutrition guide or grab a pamphlet in the restaurant that shows it. People are not going to change the way they eat simply because calories are listed on the menu.And who cares if someone wants to be fat. Its not the government’s job to make someone not want to be fat.

    All this law will do is make it harder to read what is on the menu because they typeface will be smaller and the menu will be cluttered with calorie and fat numbers all over the place.

  2. infinitysnake says:

    I have to disagree. I think people will definitely be shocked when they see just how bad some of these things are; I also expect this law will lead to more sane, lower calorie offerings.

    I don’t think it’s coincidental that after the latest round of labeling changes on food, we started seeing a glut of new whole grain/low sugar/lower fat options in stores.

  3. compuwarescc says:

    I disagree, I want calorie information on the menu – that way i know how much I’m signing up for when i order food. Who has time to request nutrition guide at a restaurant when they are on lunch break?

  4. not_seth_brundle says:

    “Until the CSPI made a mock-up of the Starbucks menu board, we really had no idea that a Venti Vanilla Bean Frappucino had 600 calories.”

    If it looks like a milkshake and tastes like a milkshake, it’s probably as bad for you as a milkshake.

  5. Weebot says:

    I’m glad that this law has passed, because it will force the hands of chains like Quiznos, who guard their nutrition information tooth and nail.

  6. MikeMiller says:

    In the wake of today’s obesity crisis, a simple look at the line of overweight consumers at McDonald’s should be evidence enough that we need solid information before we order that fatty shake, calorie-laden burger and salt-saturated fries. What’s stupid is blindly walking in to a fast food joint and pretending you’re savvy enough to know what they’ve put into the product you are ordering. It’s impossible to make good decisions with out good information. I applaud California for clearing the way for legilsation that needs to be emulated nationally.

  7. Buran says:

    @skrom: Who exactly is stopping you from ordering what you want to order? It just gives you extra information that you can read, or not, as you wish.

    Some people want to know. I’d rather the info be there, and be ignorable, than not be there and people be left in the dark.

  8. RvLeshrac says:

    @Weebot:

    Quiznos, Schlotzsky’s, Subway, McDonald’s, Burger King, and every other chain restaurant has all of the nutritional information available behind the counter. That assumes that you actually ask for it, however, and not stand there with your mouth open as you shove a quadruple-bacon lardburger in, not caring about how much fat it contains.

  9. not_seth_brundle says:

    @RvLeshrac: I don’t think that’s true. If you google “quiznos nutritional information” you’ll see some very recent blog/message board posts with people frustrated that they can’t get this information from the company.

  10. Hanke says:

    Maybe irrelevant now? NY Federal Court says the rules in NYC are in conflict with federal statutes.

    [www.silive.com]

  11. ajn007 says:

    @RvLeshrac
    @skrom

    I rarely visit the type of chain restaurants that will be subject to this law, but when I do I periodically ask for one of their nutrition information pamphlets. It is fun watching them scurry about trying to find one. And more often than not they can’t find one and will direct me to their corporation’s website. Not much help when I’m trying to decide what to eat right then.

    Honestly, this law would probably get me to visit more often as I will sure of my ability to make more informed choices that fit my diet style. Right now I just figure anything I eat at these places will kill me. This information will likely prove me wrong.

  12. SaraAB87 says:

    The problem here is that the brochures are not readily available in most places and are heavily guarded. Have you ever tried to ask for this information, its nearly impossible to get someone’s attention when you ask for it since they are often too busy with the food or helping customers. Half the time the employees don’t even know where the information is, and not everyone has the internet and is able to look these things up. The brochures are behind the counter and not in full access of the customer, the first law should be that all restaurants should be required to have nutritional information at least in a brochure up front where the customers can grab it, such as by the register or by the counter when your waiting for your food, you shouldn’t have to ask for it, it should be right there for your taking. The only place I know of that does this is subway, by printing basic nutritional information on the napkins, cups and signs on the counter glass.

  13. lemur says:

    Whoever made that sign should be fired. It’s crème, not créme. Yes, the orientation of the accent makes a difference.

    (I know. The sign was not made by anybody at Consumerist.)

  14. mrearly2 says:

    I’ll have a half-caf double decaf mocha latte–wait!–that’s 200 calories, with cream.
    You better hold the cream.
    No, I think I’ll have the mocha light vente, but make that half regular coffee, else it’s too many calories.
    WTF! Unless you’re drinking plain coffee, it’s most likely gonna be fattening or in some way, unhealthy (if coffee isn’t, already). As for other foods, if you have a basic understanding of what you should or should not eat, you already know that junk foods are usually higher in calories and simple foods (whole foods) are better and certainly healthier. I don’t see the need for all that “nutrition” information; besides, much of the stuff people indulge in is garbage.

  15. RvLeshrac says:

    @not_seth_brundle:
    @ajn007:
    @SaraAB87:

    The bit about Quiznos is quite odd. I assumed they had the info. I guess I won’t be eating there… well, ever, really, since I’ve never eaten there anyway. More expensive than any other sandwich place (save Jason’s), and you get a smaller sandwich. No, thanks.

    Regardless, every OTHER chain I’ve ever been to has had the info at hand – I’m not talking about real “restaurants,” of course, because it is nearly impossible for a real restaurant to give you anything more than a vague estimate of your meal’s nutritional info.

    And by “at-hand,” I don’t necessarily mean “for the customer to take home.” At Schlotzsky’s, they typically have laminated nutritional charts available, but you aren’t allowed to walk away with them. They have the full set of charts available online, however, so you can easily pull the numbers up at home.

    Burger King and McDonalds are similar in that they have a wall-chart, but don’t have leaflets. While having the information is good, of course, I don’t want to pay an extra $.50 for my sandwich because you want to take a booklet home and read the fat content of a Whopper while watching Friends.

  16. Bye says:

    Skrom: You are incorrect. A nanny-state law would tell us we cannot eat items with certain ingredients. We in California are just trying to find out WHAT is in some of the food the bigger chains – LIKE QUIZNO’s – serve.

    If you go up to the counter at a Quizno’s and ask for nutritional content right now, they will give you nothing. And this is OK in your eyes?

  17. Weebot says:

    @RvLeshrac: Could you at least do a google search before making such asinine comments?

    And a general question to fellow Consumerists: does anyone actually know what the US policy is in regards to the nutritional information that chain restaurants provide? Is it voluntary or mandatory? What are the minimum requirements before you have to supply the information, if it is mandatory? Are there any glaring loopholes?

  18. not_seth_brundle says:

    @Rey: If Quiznos isn’t giving you nutritional information, take your business elsewhere. There’s no need to force it to hand out the information.

  19. woertink says:

    It seems that to often people jump to legislation and avoid voluntary attempts to change business practices. Why not try some protests and campaigns to encourage the companies to add them voluntarily?

  20. night_sky says:

    Thank you California! I hope this bill is signed. You naysayers can complain all you want. I’m glad this law is even being considered. I don’t care what excuse you use in the book, it doesn’t change the fact that showing calorie info on menus is helpful and can only lead to better decisions in choice of food or drink. It’s not going to cure all obesity in the world, but seeing calorie info is NOT harmful at all! Period.

  21. infinitysnake says:

    @night_sky: Amen to that. I amvery happy with this- and who know2s, i might venture to order in some of these places when I know how bad the damage could be.

    For those insisting that a greasy card you have to make a special request for is sufficient, I say bah. Imagine if you had to ask the grocery clerk for one every time you bought a can of beans!

  22. Ola says:

    This is nearly as stupid as asking the government to require Starbucks to make a mint frappucino available year-round, because the customers *want* it. What happened to customers lobbying a business and encouraging industry-wide change that way? I like the idea of nutritional info on menus. But there’s no reason my precious tax dollars should be spent on all the stuff that goes into creating and enforcing a regulation.

    And if you don’t like what Quiznos does…don’t go to Quiznos! People want everything and they don’t want to be inconvenienced, so they beg the neighborhood bully (aka the government) to deal with their problems for them.

  23. PenguinBlue says:

    Thank you, State of California, for further imposing on others’ freedoms such that I may live my life in a manner that is more in line with the beliefs and priorities of your lawmakers. Without your oversight, I would surely perish in a world full of decisions to be made for myself.

  24. skrom says:

    @Rey:

    Sure, you should eat what you like and what tastes good instead of micromanaging calories. The cavemen just ate what they wanted why shouldnt we.