California and New York City already require chains to display calorie counts alongside menu items, but if two Members of Congress have their way, menu labeling legislation will soon apply to chains and fast food restaurants throughout the nation. The Menu Education and Labeling (MEAL) Act introduced by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) would go even farther than existing state and local regulations by requiring chains to disclose fat, carbohydrate and salt content on their printed menus. The food industry, of course, is supporting a more palatable bill with an equally snappy acronym…
Health advocates believe that when people see the amount of calories, fat and salt in meals before they order them, they will gravitate to more healthful selections.
“Consumers play an impossible guessing game trying to make healthier choices in restaurants,” said Margo Wootan, nutrition policy director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “Who would guess that a large chocolate shake at McDonald’s has more calories than two Big Macs or that a multigrain bagel at Dunkin’ Donuts has 140 more calories than a jelly doughnut?”
The restaurant industry is pushing a competing bill. The Labeling Education and Nutrition Act, nicknamed the LEAN Act, would require chains with more than 20 units to post calorie counts. It also would nullify state and local measures now in effect and preempt future regional measures.
The bill, H.R. 2426, has already attracted 34 cosponsors in the House and is awaiting consideration by the Energy and Commerce Committee.