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April 15, 2010

New Health Care Legislation Affects Restaurants' Nutritional Information Requirements

The recently passed health care legislation includes a new requirement regarding nutritional information for fast food items. The new requirements come as a victory for people who have been advocating more accountability for restaurants who serve fast food. According to an ABC News article:

. . . The new requirement is buried deep inside the health care reform that President Obama just signed into law. . .It requires all dining chains with 20 outlets or more to put calorie counts on their menus.

These developments have been championed by many, including Iowa Senator Tom Harkin who voted for the bill and is quoted in the article:

 . . . As more and more consumer become aware of choices, they will start making the healthy choice. . .more and more people are going to start eating salads at McDonalds than ever before.

Critics say that although restaurants with less than 20 outlets are exempt from the rule, it is a scary sign that the federal government is moving closer and closer to policing small restaurant operations. According to Didier Durand, chef and head of an organization of independent restaurants aimed at keeping ‘police out of the kitchen’:

 . . . Members [of Durand’s organization] are fed up with encroaching government regulation. . . “They want to police our kitchen, I want the police on the streets, Durand said. “In my kitchen, I put a pinch of that, a little of this, just never the same, so I think that will never be accurate.”

Although these concerns are substantial and illustrate a fear of too much government interference in restaurant operations, studies have shown that nutrition requirements on restaurant food can lead to consumers choosing healthier items. According to a Stanford University Study :

 . . . We find that mandatory calorie posting does influence consumer behavior at Starbucks, causing average calories per transaction to decrease by 6% (from 247 to 232 calories per transaction). Almost all of the effect is related to food purchase as opposed to beverage purchase. . . There is evidence that calorie posting may have caused some consumers to substitute away from Dunkin Donuts (a large competitor) towards Starbucks.

Under the newly enacted legislation, there are specific requirements that must be followed by the restaurant with the hope bringing more knowledge to consumers:

 . . . The restaurant or similar retail food establishment shall disclose. . .a nutrient content statement. . .the number of calories as usually prepared. . .and a succinct statement concerning suggested daily caloric intake. H.R.3962 "Affordable Health Care for American Act, page 1511.

Thank you to William Mitchell College of Law student Nathan Midolo for preparing this post.  Mr. Midolo is a student of Professor Donna M. Byrne.

April 15, 2010 in Labeling, Restaurants | Permalink

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