FDA Delays Rule Requiring Calorie Count On Menus Yet Again

Image courtesy of jackie alpers

Three years after the Food and Drug Administration finalized a new rule requiring calorie counts on the menus of many restaurants, the agency has decided to delay the implementation of that rule for the third time — giving chain eateries, vending machine owners, and others extra time to comply.

The menu labeling requirements — originally included in the 2010 Affordable Care Act — mean that chain restaurants, vending machines, grocery store snack bars, gas stations, movie theaters, sports stadiums, and other businesses that sell prepared food must post calorie counts.

These calorie counts were supposed to start showing up in 2015, but the FDA first delayed that compliance date to the end 2016, and then again to May 5, 2017.

This latest delay isn’t to give companies more time to comply, but to give the Trump administration time to possibly revise the regulation. In its memo [PDF] explaining its decision to move the deadline, the agency — despite its years of research on this issue — says it might still “not have all of the relevant facts,” and is once again asking for input.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price claims that moving forward with the current rules would be “unwise unhelpful” and says that the FDA is trying to find ways to make the rules “more flexible and less burdensome while still providing useful information to consumers.”

Of course, this is exactly what many of the big players in the food industry and their allies wanted: In February, lawmakers in the Senate introduced a bill that would make a few revisions to the rule, including allowing pizza chains and other establishments with a lot of delivery or takeout orders to post their calorie count information solely online.

Indeed, the American Pizza Community — a coalition of pizza companies, regional chains, small business franchise owners, suppliers and others in the business of pizza — has applauded the FDA’s decision to delay compliance, saying in a statement that the “previous approach threatened to impose excessive burdens on thousands of small businesses without achieving meaningful improvements in educating consumers.”

Our colleagues at Consumers Union, the policy and mobilization arm of Consumer Reports, say they are disappointed by the delay.

“This shouldn’t be controversial. Congress required food retailers to give consumers nutrition labeling more than seven years ago. It recognized that consumers should be able to make healthy, informed choices about the food they buy, regardless of whether they’re getting groceries or eating out,” said William Wallace, policy analyst for CU.

“We are very disappointed by this delay, which cannot be justified under the FDA’s public health mission, and we will strongly oppose any further weakening of the menu labeling rule.”