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Food Wars: Food Caloric Values on Menus

Food Wars: Food Caloric Values on Menus

Jerry Hirsch | Irish TImes

The Los Angeles firm says it is exempt from a similarly worded California regulation that will be phased in by January 1, 2011, because its restaurants feature varying themes and menus, a spokeswoman says.

If passed, the federal legislation would pre-empt similar laws in California, New York City and other regions for chains with at least 20 units, but local governments still would be able to pass laws for single restaurants and smaller chains. Some states have more stringent disclosure requirements than what would be mandated under the federal bill.

Nick & Stef’s is the type of restaurant that could easily comply with the menu rules, according to some health advocates.

“This isn’t right,” says Barbara Moore, chief executive of Shape Up America, an obesity-fighting non-profit group. “Somehow we are missing the boat. If we used $1 million in annual sales instead of a random number of restaurants as the cutoff point, a restaurant like this would have to report.”

But exempting small businesses is reasonable, says Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which gained its “food police” nickname in the 1990s when it declared fettuccine Alfredo “a heart attack on a plate”.

“It is easier for the big chains to provide accurate information and deal with government regulation,” Wootan says.

Last month, the group helped a New Jersey man file a lawsuit against Denny’s Corporation alleging that the chain’s heavy use of salt puts “customers at greater risk of high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke”.

The lawsuit asks the court to order Denny’s to list the sodium content of its food on the menu and warn about the hazards of consuming salt in high doses.

But in this instance, the centre is siding with the NRA and supports the 20-restaurant cutoff, which the centre believes would capture about two-thirds of the nation’s eateries, far more than the estimates of opponents, Wootan says.

The legislation is a result of “negotiations” between the centre and the NRA and represents the best chance of establishing a national menu labelling plan, something the restaurant industry has fought for years, Wootan says.