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Food Wars: Food Caloric Values on Menus

Food Wars: Food Caloric Values on Menus

Jerry Hirsch | Irish TImes

A food fight fight is brewing over legislation in Washington DC that would require restaurants to post calories on menus.

Hoping to clean up a patchwork of what it says are unwieldy state and local laws, a restaurant trade group is pushing a federal bill that would require chains to disclose the calorie counts of meals on the menu.

But companies such as Domino’s, KFC and El Pollo Loco say the proposed legislation lets too many restaurants off the hook. They want to broaden the requirement to include many individual eateries and small chains.

The fight has become so intense that the warring parties have made some unusual alliances. The National Restaurant Association (NRA) has forged a pact with a public policy interest group often called the “food police” and long a foe of the industry. It sees the proposed legislation, introduced by Senator Tom Harkin, in May and, since combined with a competing bill, as the best way to expand menu labelling nationwide after years of objections by the restaurant trade.

Meanwhile, more than a dozen fast-food and pizza chains have linked with several health groups that believe the legislation should include as many establishments as possible.

As written, the bill applies only to chains with 20 or more restaurants operating under the same name. They must post calories on menus and provide more detailed written information, such as fat and sodium content, on request.

The 20-establishment threshold captures just 25 per cent of roughly one million restaurants nationally, says Jonathan Blum, a senior vice-president of Yum Brands Inc, which owns Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, KFC and several other chains.

“That is inadequate. America’s consumers deserve better,” Blum says. It’s also unfair to all the restaurants that will be required to list nutrition information on their menus, he adds.

Yum and the other companies say the regulations should apply to individual restaurants with $1 million or more in annual sales and chains with three or more locations.

“A pizza is a pizza no matter where it is purchased,” says Steve Carley, chief executive of El Pollo Loco, the chicken chain.

Large companies such as Patina Restaurant Group, which operates 60 restaurants including the Nick & Stef’s steakhouses in New York and Los Angeles and eateries in many performing arts centres, would be exempt from the rules even though the company has about $200 million in annual revenue.