WASHINGTON -- The U.S. House of Representatives has approved legislation that would ease the Affordable Care Act rule requiring convenience stores and other foodservice operations to display nutrition information, such as calorie counts, on menus. The bill now moves on to the Senate for consideration.
Unlike the current rule set to take effect May 7, 2018, the proposed Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act allows retailers to set a caloric range or average for menu items with several toppings and ingredients options, instead of calculating the nutritional content for each variation available.
If most of the foodservice orders are placed online, the bill also gives retailers the flexibility to publish calorie information on a website instead of in stores. The legislation also offers retailers an opportunity to correct violations within 90 days without penalty.
“In passing the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act (CSNDA), the U.S. House of Representatives has reached a critical milestone toward the shared goals of providing consumers the information they need to make wise nutritional choices—without burdening them with higher prices and reduced choices, or exposing small businesses and their employees to insurmountable barriers to compliance, crippling costs and potential criminal penalties for innocent mistakes,” said Lyle Beckwith, senior vice president of government relations for NACS.
Compliance under the current legislation could cost retailers seven times more than the FDA’s $1 billion estimate for all industries over 10 years, according to a study commissioned by NACS.
“In contrast to the FDA regulations, which applied a one-size-fits-all approach that did not take into account the differences in approach to foodservice between big-chain restaurants and convenience stores, grocery stores and delivery operations, the CSNDA will set a national standard for disclosure while providing these businesses the flexibility to provide nutritional information in ways that fit their diverse business and service models,” Beckwith said.
Opponents say the bill is a setback in the fight to address Americans’ expanding waistlines and declining public health. “At a time when our country is facing an obesity epidemic, I would say really a crisis, we should not be undermining efforts to educate consumers about the nutritional value of foods, including calories,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.).
In November, less than a week before the menu-labeling rule's enactment, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) pushed back the deadline for its enforcement. The agency plans to return in the spring with updated guidelines based on the most recent round of public comments. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said business owners could expect the following revisions:
- Posters, billboards and coupons illustrating or listing food and drink offerings will not be officially regarded as menus, and would be exempt from featuring calorie counts for the items depicted.
- For self-service food bars and beverage stations, there will only be a single sign listing all ingredients and their calorie counts, rather than an individual calorie content for each type of food or drink item. However, it remains unclear whether or not this proposed revision applies only to convenience stores and supermarkets, or if this will be applicable to all foodservice venues.
- Rules for menu tests will be revised; during a promotional period in which a c-store, restaurant or other foodservice operation will offer a menu item on a trial basis to gauge customer interest, calorie counts for the item will not be required. Test offerings that are not yet part of the permanent menu will be exempt from menu-labeling rules, as long as the trial period lasts 90 days or fewer.
The bill will move to the Republican-led Senate, where it will need the support of no fewer than nine Democrats for passage, according to The Hill.