Foodservice Equipment Reports

Menu Labeling Law Drawing Renewed Fire

The public comment period has just ended but the outcry against impending menu-labeling requirements has been renewed. Previously, the foodservice industry had accepted the new policies included in the 2010 healthcare law because it would pre-empt the current patchwork of state and local menu-labeling requirements.

But unease has been bubbling up over the law, which requires restaurants with more than 20 locations to post calorie counts on their menus and/or menu boards. In May, Bloomberg News reported that Domino's Pizza told U.S. regulators that the mandate was unworkable. The chain complained that its 34 million possible combinations of toppings, crusts and sauces would require 21 different menu boards. Domino’s said the requirements would cost each store $1,400, for an overall $7 million price-tag.

While Domino’s might not qualify as a small business, some Republican lawmakers are claiming the new regulations are an unfair burden on such businesses. Groups, including the National Restaurant Association, are asking the Food and Drug Administration to extend the public comment period. Lawmakers suggested drive-through restaurants be allowed to provide a pamphlet with nutrition information next to their menu boards rather than be forced to expand to oversized boards which could be banned by local zoning.

While industry groups registered few specific complaints with the proposed rule as the window for comments closed last week, they asked the FDA to extend the comment period for another 30 days, saying the proposed rule is too complex to analyze in the 60 days the FDA provided.

Separately, on June 17, the NRA submitted comments to the U.S. Department of Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service asking for more specific definitions of key concepts in the healthcare law—such as the difference between full- and part-time employees—that will impact how the restaurant and foodservice industry will offer coverage. “With respect to the new health care law,” said Scott DeFife, the NRA’s exec. v.p.-policy and government affairs, “the uncertainty of the regulatory process and the many rules that are yet to be clarified and fully defined are worrisome for our members. However, we very much appreciate Treasury and the IRS’ effort to explore key definitional issues for the industry early before promulgating related regulations.”