June 11, 2009

Chain Restaurants Agree To Support Menu-Labeling Laws

A coalition of chain restaurants with 20 or more locations, agreed on Wednesday to support a new law that mandates they disclose calorie counts on their menus.

The new law could be included as part of the upcoming healthcare overhaul legislation to be debated in Congress in the coming weeks.

"America is facing an obesity epidemic which must be addressed at the national level," Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), who along with Democratic Senators Tom Carper and Tom Harkin support the menu labeling legislation.

"This compromise will allow Americans to be informed about the nutrition content of their foods prior to the point of purchase," she told Reuters.

The legislation is also being supported by the National Restaurant Association, which includes Dunkin Donuts and Darden Restaurants Inc., operator of the Olive Garden and Red Lobster chains, along with the American Diabetes Association and the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

"To have all of those key players at this point as one unified front to move forward with a national nutrition standard is, I think, really significant," National Restaurant Association spokeswoman Sue Hensley told Reuters.

Legislation mandating calorie counts and other nutritional information be made publicly available have been gaining widespread support as the nation attempts to fight the country's increasing obesity problem.

Indeed, about one in three U.S. adults are obese, a condition that raises the risk of diabetes, cancer, heart disease and other illnesses.

Last September, California became the first U.S. state to require fast-food restaurant chains to include calorie counts on their menus. Similar rules were enacted in New York City last year, and several more states are considering similar legislation.

Conceding that change is needed, the restaurant industry has called on the federal government to establish a consistent nationwide approach, rather than adopting a hodgepodge of state and local laws.

Such a standardized, nationwide system would create a level playing field for all restaurants, the restaurant association said, and better protect them from frivolous lawsuits.