Long-Delayed Menu-Labeling Rules About to Take Effect

The Obama-era rules requiring restaurants to list calorie counts for different food items are likely to go through, with the support of some associations. One group that isn’t psyched, however, is the pizza industry.

After numerous delays, including one this time last year, the Food and Drug Administration looks like it’s finally ready to put into effect some long-in-the-works nutrition-labeling rules for restaurants.

The rules, anticipated to take effect May 7, have many restaurants—and the associations that represent them—rushing to get things ready in time. And it looks like, at least at this juncture, that the Trump administration is going to let the Obama-era rules go through, with FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb emphasizing that improving public nutrition was one of his main goals.

“I’m committed to advancing our work in nutrition as one tool to help reduce health disparities and improve the lives of all Americans, and to help every family live more free from the burden of preventable illness,” Gottlieb said at a recent conference, according to The Washington Post.

Associations are preparing for the big shift—and many restaurants are already ready. In comments to USA Today earlier this month, National Restaurant Association Executive Vice President of Public Affairs Cicely Simpson noted that most restaurants had already made changes in anticipation of the rules taking effect last year.

“We have thousands of restaurants that are already labeling. We believe more are complying than not complying,” she told the newspaper.

The association has largely come out in support of the rules—while opposing state- and local-level efforts to preempt them.

While the rule changes are costly—USA Today reported that one relatively small burger chain was paying $50,000 for implementation—they have led to some successful initiatives in the association space, including the Brewers Association’s nutrient database.

The Pizza Parlor Blues

However, some associations remain opposed to the rules, such as those representing the pizza industry. These groups, including the Domino’s Franchisee Association and the American Pizza Community, argue that the rules don’t make sense for pizza franchisees due to the way the restaurants work: Pizzas are highly customizable, so every ingredient would need a calorie count; and people generally order pizzas offsite for delivery purposes, meaning they won’t even see the calorie counts.

“These regulations are written for Applebee’s or McDonald’s, not for a business that primarily delivers,” American Pizza Community Chairman Tim McIntyre told Fox News. “We’re just asking the FDA to realize we’ve got this thing called the internet, and it’s not going away.”

Jim Gerety, the chairman of the Domino’s Franchisee Association, told the news outlet that the labeling rule also threatened to create liability concerns.

“If I have a pizza-maker doing the best he can, but he misses a pepperoni and falls out of the guidelines, there shouldn’t be any criminality involved in that,” Gerety said.

At least one legislative effort has been created in response to the issue; the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act, which passed the House in February, would make it possible for restaurants to list ranges for how a food item is usually ordered, rather than listing every ingredient, and would limit liability exposure for restaurants.

But the bill has yet to become law, so odds are good that your Domino’s might be stuck listing the calorie counts for every single ingredient it offers.

An Arby's menu. Many restaurants have already added calorie counts in anticipation of the rule. (Paul Rosemeyer/Flickr)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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