November 15, 2008

National Menu-Labeling System Gaining Momentum

As more states adopt laws requiring fast-food chains to list calorie counts and other nutritional information on their menus, the idea of a nationwide system to mandate the practice is gaining increasing support, said a panel of experts on Friday. 

The new laws have become increasingly popular as states and cities seek to combat a growing obesity problem and promote healthier diets. However, Congress has struggled to gain consensus on establishing a federal law for the practice.

A bill introduced by Sen. Tom Harkin and Rep. Rosa DeLauro and has stalled, said a DeLauro aide, due to Congressional leadership and limited state level interest. However, the bill will be reintroduced in the next session of Congress, said the aide.  Sens. Tom Carper of Delaware and Lisa Murkowski have also introduced similar legislation.

"We think our prospects are a little better, not because of the election results, but because of what's been going on the state level," the DeLauro aide told Reuters.

Last fall, California became the first state in the nation to mandate fast-food restaurant chains to list calorie counts on their menus.  Similar laws took effect this year in New York City.   Many other states are currently reviewing the idea of enacting similar provisions in their health codes.

Yum Brands senior vice president Jonathan Blum said the fast food company supports a consistent nationwide approach that would apply to supermarkets, convenience stores and restaurants, including Yum's Taco Bell and Pizza Hut brands.  Brum said a nationwide system would create a level playing field and better protect the industry from frivolous lawsuits.

"This is far better for consumers and for our business than seeing a hodgepodge of different standards in different states and communities," he told Reuters. 
Yum has promised to display calorie information on menus at its company-owned stores by 2011, in response to comments from health and consumer groups.

Margo Wootan, a director of nutrition policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said state action helped drive the restaurant industry to become more interested in a national solution.

"We were not very effective asking for voluntary change," she told Reuters..

According to World Health Organization estimates, 400 million adults worldwide are classified as obese, while 1.6 billion adults are overweight.. In the United States, one in three adults are obese, a condition that increases the risk of conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and cancer.