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The National Grocers Association (NGA) and the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) blasted a sweeping proposed rule by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that will require restaurants, grocery stores, convenience stores and vending machines with 20 or more locations to list calorie information on menus and menu boards.
While most trade associations refrained from commenting until the full text of the proposed menu labeling law was officially released Tuesday , NGA, FMI and the National Restaurant Association (NRA) -- whose views differ significantly on what's bound to become a key industry hot button in the weeks and months ahead –- were among the first national industry groups to weigh in.
Passed in March of 2010 as part of the Affordable Care Act, the menu labeling law will require restaurant chains with 20 or more locations operating under the same brand to provide detailed nutrition information to consumers and display calories on the menu, menu board or drive-thru.
Peter Larkin, president and CEO of Arlington, Va.-based NGA, said: "The scope of the nutrition labeling provision as proposed by Congress was to provide a uniform standard for chain restaurant menu labeling, not grocery stores. Grocery stores are not chain restaurants, which is why Congress did not initially include them in the law. We are disappointed that the FDA's final rules will capture grocery stores, and impose such a large and costly regulatory burden on our members."
Larkin vowed that NGA -– which represents the retail and wholesale grocers that comprise the independent sector of the food distribution industry –- will continue to press Congress for bipartisan legislation to address what he termed "regulatory overreach."
“Grocery stores already provide an abundance of nutritional information well beyond calories and have done so for decades," said FMI President/CEO Leslie G. Sarasin. "They should not be pulled into a menu labeling law and regulation designed for a different industry. In fact, a typical grocery store has 95 percent of food items already labeled with Nutrition Facts, disclosing much more nutritional information beyond calories, and supermarkets have been exemplified through the years as venues where consumers are informed of their nutritional choices."
Added Nate Filler, President/CEO of the Ohio Grocers Association: "Even after hundreds of comments from our industry, the rules announced today still fail to recognize how grocery stores, convenience stores, are different than restaurants in delivering food service to today’s consumer."
Meanwhile, NRA president and CEO Dawn Sweeney applauded FDA's scheduled release of the final menu labeling regulations. "The National Restaurant Association strongly believes in the importance of providing nutrition information to consumers to empower them to make the best choices for their dietary needs. Under the federal menu labeling regulations which the association sought and supported, nutrition information will soon be available in more than 200,000 restaurant locations nationwide. We joined forces with more than 70 public health and stakeholder groups to advocate for a federal nutrition standard so that anyone dining out can have clear, easy-to-use nutrition information at the point of ordering –- information that is presented in the same way, no matter what part of the country."
Sweeney, who pledged to FDA the support of the restaurant industry to implement the new rules, said the agency "has positively addressed the areas of greatest concern with the proposed regulations and is providing the industry with the ability to implement the law in a way that will most benefit consumers. We appreciate the diligence the FDA took in understanding the complexities of how this regulation will impact the restaurant industry, and the patrons of restaurants all across the country."
Consumer groups are also cheering the news as "a landmark public health policy," according to the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Science and the Public Interest, whose director of nutrition policy, Margo Wootan, told The New York Times, "This is one of the most important public health nutrition policies ever to be passed nationally. Right now, you are totally guessing at what you are getting. This rule will change that."
Wooton was also quoted on Politico.com as saying, "The Republicans should be all for this. This is not nanny state run amok — this is ensuring that people have the information to make their own choices."
The rules, which also include alcohol, are far broader than many expected, even those who've staunchly advocated for its passage, including Marion Nestle, a professor in the department of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, who was also quoted in the Times as saying: "It's much tougher than the original. I'm amazed. It never occurred to me that alcohol would make it in."
If passed as outlined, the new rules will take effect in one year.
See PG's related coverage of FDA's menu labeling inclusions and exemptions here.