Woman reading a restaurant menu
Restaurants have more time to meet FDA menu rule.

WASHINGTON, DC — Calorie counts at restaurants and other retail establishments were supposed to be in place by Dec. 1. But the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced Thursday that the “calorie count law” will not go into effect until Dec. 1, 2016.

The news was buried in an announcement detailing the House Appropriations Committee’s 2016 Agriculture Appropriations bill.

“The bill also includes a policy provision delaying the implementation of a new menu labeling regulation by a year, to give restaurants, local supermarkets, grocery stores and similar retail establishments adequate time to comply with the law,” the announcement stated.

Last November, the FDA released new rules requiring chain restaurants with 20 or more locations to begin posting calorie information on their menus as part of the Affordable Care Act, which passed in 2010. The labeling rule covers restaurants, supermarkets, convenience stores and movie theaters. Those retailers will have to display calorie counts on their menus, menu board and displays.

“Americans eat and drink about one-third of their calories away from home, and people today expect clear information about the products they consume,” FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg said at the time.

The labeling rules apply not only to menus and menu boards at sit-down and fast-food restaurants, but also to other retail food establishments with 20 or more locations, such as convenience stores and movie theaters. 

US Rep. Rosa DeLauro

Rep. Rosa DeLauro

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), the chief sponsor of menu labeling legislation for nearly a decade and the author of the provision in the Affordable Care Act, said in a statement that she was “dismayed” by the delay. DeLauro said she spoke to Acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Ostroff and urged him to do everything in his power to ensure there are no further delays.

“Over the past year, FDA has done extensive outreach, provided a compliance guide for small entities and answered questions from industry,” DeLauro said. “Between the rule and FDA’s efforts, industry has more than enough information to implement menu labeling.”

DeLauro said the food industry is stonewalling implementation of the public health tool.

“It takes time to change signage, packaging and data systems. I understand that,” she said. “But ultimately we need to make sure consumers have nutrition information available to them when making purchasing decisions. It is already five years and counting since menu labeling became law. I urge the entire administration, not just the FDA: get this done. … No more delays.”