US House passes 'Common Sense' nutrition labeling bill

by Erica Shaffer
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WASHINGTON – The US House of Representatives passed the “Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act of 2015” on a bipartisan vote of 266-144. The bill gives retailers and foodservice operators more flexibility to comply with the US Food and Drug Administration’s menu labeling rule which the agency finalized in 2014. 
Leslie Sarasin, Food Marketing Institute
Leslie Sarasin, CEO of the Food Marketing Institute

“The Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act of 2015 (HR 2017) is not about being ‘for’ or ‘against’ the inclusion of nutrition information on menus,” Leslie Sarasin, president and CEO of the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), said in a statement. “Instead, the bill injects some common sense into the rule by avoiding a one-size fits all system and allowing supermarkets to provide this important information to their customers in ways that are most accessible and useful to the customers for whom it is intended.”

According to FMI, measures that would ease the burden of complying with menu labeling regulations include:

Allowing use of a menu or menu board in a prepared foods area or next to a salad bar instead of requiring individual labeling of every item;

  • Preserving local foods or fresh items that may only be sold at one or two store or restaurant locations; and
  • Allowing an establishment to take corrective actions within 90-days prior to federal, state or municipal enforcement and thereby provide some degree of liability protection.
  • FMI added that the bill maintains the spirit of FDA’s original menu labeling rule.

The National Grocers Association (NGA), which represents independent supermarket establishments, applauded passage of the bill saying HR 2017 clarifies the FDA menu labeling rule.

“Independent supermarket operators are on the forefront of meeting consumer demands with a variety of innovative approaches, often tailoring their offerings to reflect the communities they serve,” Peter J. Larkin, NGA president and CEO, said in a statement.  “HR 2017 contains important regulatory fixes and provides flexibility for supermarkets to continue serving their consumers with local and unique food choices while ensuring consumers receive clear nutritional information.”

But consumer groups disagreed, saying the measure weakens enforcement and consumer protections. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), said the bill would allow restaurants and other food establishments to create their own serving sizes and deny customers calorie information on menu boards inside pizza chains and many other foodservice establishments. 

Margo Wootan, Center for Science in the Public Interest
Margo G. Wootan, director of nutrition policy at CSPI

“Despite the clever name, this anti-menu labeling bill is neither common sense nor would it disclose additional nutrition information,” Margo G. Wootan, director of nutrition policy at CSPI, said in a statement. “It would result in consumer confusion and prevent disclosure of straightforward, consistent calorie information at many food service establishments.”

FDA’s menu labeling rule requires that foodservice establishments and grocery stores to list calorie information for food items on menus and menu boards accompanied by a statement about suggested daily caloric intake.

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